|Safrole oil is used in the production of ecstasy pills, like these, which were seized in a raid on a laboratory in New York. (Reuters)|
Buth Reaksmey Kongkea
The Phnom Penh Post
Eleven people were arrested and more than 3,000 litres of safrole oil – enough to manufacture 30 million tablets of ecstasy – were seized on Tuesday and yesterday during raids on six drug-producing sites in the capital, police said.
The raids, the product of a months-long investigation, were led by Brigadier General Touch Naruth, chief of Phnom Penh Municipal Police, and Chiv Keng, president of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, along with related district governors and officials of the four city districts where the raids occurred.
“I think that this is a big operation for cracking down on drugs,” said Pen Rath, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police. “This is another success, and we have arrested many drug dealers, cracked down on many drug-producing sites, and seized a lot of safrole in the city.”
According to Pen Rath, investigators found that the confiscated safrole was imported by drug dealers across the porous Cambodian-Thai border.
Just last week in an interview with the Post, Ke Kimyan, head of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, conceded his agency was unable to provide enough manpower to effectively curb smuggling along the country’s borders.
“According to NADC’s estimation, there are about 100 illegal corridors on the Cambodian-Thai border, and about 50 illegal corridors on the Cambodian-Lao borders,” he said.
Olivier Lermet, country manager for the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime, says that while there are measures in place to stymie the flow of illegal substances across the Thai-Cambodian border – including the PATROL initiative (Partnership Against Transnational-crime through Regional Organised Law Enforcement) – the manufacture of ecstasy in Cambodia generally seems on the rise.
He specifically cited the increased logging of Mreas Prov Phnom – a legally protected tree that grows in the Cardamom Mountains.
“The safrole rich oil is extracted from its trunk, roots, bark and leaves,” Lermet said. “The illegal logging of Mreas Prov in the hunt for safrole-rich oils has steadily grown over the last decade.”
Ultimately, the suspects arrested in the two-day raid had planned to export the finished product to Canada by way of Vietnam and China.
In addition to safrole oil, the authorities seized 11 barrels of gasoline (which had been scented so as to be undetectable in the finished product), six acid bottles, seven bottles of alcohol, drug-producing equipment and materials and an unspecified amount of powder methamphetamines from the six producing sites.
“Up to now, we do not know exactly the amount of drugs which were seized yet,” said Pen Rath. “We now are still working hard and making a report. We will produce an official report about it tomorrow.”
The suspects, including six Vietnamese nationals and five Cambodians, were arrested in Sen Sok district, Po Sen Chey district, Meanchey district and Chamkarmon district.
According to Pen Rath, police have now opened investigations in every commune and district of the capital to look into the possibility of other drug manufacturers and drug-producing sites operating in Phnom Penh.
The suspects are now being detained by police for questioning and further investigation, and will be sent to municipal court on Thursday.
Neither the suspects, nor their lawyers could be reached for comment.