The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday again delayed a hearing on the bizarre “uranium” smuggling case that involved four people because results of tests on the material in question were unclear to the judge.
In August 2016, four men were found in possession of what police believed was uranium, despite the fact that the material was in liquid form and being contained in plastic bottles. Uranium enters a liquid state at 1,132 degrees Celsius. Police have not yet explained why they thought it was uranium.
“In the case against Chea Yu, Chan Thoeun, Tit Raksmey and Dy Vibol, the results of the test on the substance are still unclear. The officials who conducted the tests have not yet shared their thoughts on the results to the court.
“Therefore the court has decided to delay the hearing to a later date. We will invite technical officials from the Ministry of Interior to participate in the trial,” Judge Seng Leang said at the hearing.
The four defendants have been in pre-trial detention since their arrest in August 2016 in the capital’s Por Sen Chey district, where they met to check on a substance they claimed to be a type of acid used to test gold.
However, police suspected the substance was uranium and was in the process of being trafficked to an unknown agent to produce a radioactive weapon.
They were then charged in the Phnom Penh court with processing and conspiring to sell a substance used to produce chemical, nuclear, biological or radioactive weapons in violation of Article 27 of the Law on the Prohibition of Chemical, Nuclear, Biological and Radiological Weapons.
They face between five to 10 years imprisonment if found guilty.
In the previous hearings, the accused said they were told to sell the substance imported from Vietnam and find buyers for it. They said the substance was an acid to test gold and costs $400,000 a litre.
Eng Sothea, Chanthoeun’s defence lawyer, said the test results had been read in court two weeks ago and he failed to understand why a further postponement was required.
“The test was done by the National Authority for Chemical Weapons. The results showed that the substance was not radioactive. It was only a strong acid . . . I think that a delay to await clarification from those who tested it is not necessary. They will only confirm what we already know,” Sothea said.
An angry Sothea said that delaying the hearing affects the rights of his client and he called for the judge to drop the charge or at least change the charge to transporting a forbidden acid, which would only involve a fine for his client if he were to be found guilty.
“My client and the other defendants are being treated unjustly, being detained for no crime, and no [court official] will be held responsible for their loss of freedom and the time they lost during their detention,” Sothea said.