Anti-Drug Police Rejects Drug Charges, Says Marijuana Was Chicken Feed

4 min read
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on August 18, 2021 (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)

A military police official pleaded innocent to drug charges at a trial on Friday, saying he was framed and alleging that a karaoke proprietor, who is the co-accused, was the only one dealing drugs.

Chhun Somethea, a military police official and head of the anti-drug bureau in Takeo province, and Ken Chanry, a karaoke business owner, were arrested  with 2 kg of methamphetamines during a sting operation in June 2020.

Additionally, around 8 kg of marijuana, a scale and two gas-powered guns were found at Somethea’s home in Takeo. Somethea has been charged under Article 40 of the Drugs Control Law for illegally possessing and transporting drugs, and Article 490 of the Criminal Code for unauthorized transport of a weapon, while Chanry is facing only the first charge.

The two defendants gave clashing accounts of the alleged drug transaction. Chanry admitted that she had worked with Somethea to procure the drugs and bring them to Phnom Penh, whereas Somethea denied having any part in the deal and claimed he was being framed.

Chhouk Kea, the deputy bureau chief of the anti-drug department at the National Police, testified in court on Friday and said the deal was set up by an undercover agent for the police.

Following a 12-month investigation, undercover police identified and approached Somethea in March 2020 and inquired about drug prices, Kea said. Someathea directed them to Chanry, with whom the agents set up a $15,000 drug deal at a Stung Meanchey petrol station in June 2020.

Kea said police arrested the two defendants around 9:50 a.m. on June 4, and, upon searching Somethea’s home, they found the marijuana, guns and scale.

“I ask the court to severely punish the accused because he is a competent official but he committed such a crime,” Kea said, adding that the court should show Chanry leniency for cooperating with the police.

The panel of judges then questioned Chanry, who admitted her guilt and said she needed the money because her karaoke business had gone bankrupt and Somethea assured her they would not get caught.

“I was fearful but he said that he guaranteed [my safety] because he is a competent official. He guaranteed that there would not be any problem,” Chanry said in court.

The accused said she knew Somethea since 2015 and had done smaller drug deals for him, earning between $100 to $200 each time. But this time they were doing a larger deal. He gave her $9,500 to transfer via Wing to a “Heng Ty” and later she collected the drugs from a person named “Pache.”

She came to Phnom Penh on June 4 with Somethea but they split up and were arrested later at the petrol station, according to Chanry.

Somethea, however, absolved himself of any crime under questioning and made the astonishing claim that the marijuana found in his home had been confiscated from separate drug busts and was being used to feed chickens. 

“You keep it for feeding chickens. Does this seem appropriate?” Judge San Bunthoeun asked.

“I did keep it, but I had no intention to make a deal,” Somethea replied.

Reports submitted to court showed that the methamphetamines were 70 percent pure. This level of purity could see them jailed for up to 10 years and fined up to $5,000.

Somethea said he had come to Phnom Penh to take a grandchild to the hospital, to buy spare parts for his car and meet someone. He denied giving Chanry money to buy drugs and said he did not know “Heng Ty.” At one point, he recanted earlier testimony he had given to police, citing irregularities.

The military police official even dared Chanry to take an oath that they had worked together on the alleged drug deal.

“I dare you to take the oath to have my whole family’s generation be destroyed if I did give you the money.”

The court heard from other witnesses, including the Wing shop owner, who confirmed Chanry had made the money transfers. Five of Somethea’s colleagues said he was busy on a mission a day before the deal from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. but could not account for his whereabouts earlier in the day when he allegedly gave Chanry the $9,500. 

Deputy prosecutor Vong Savath said there was no exculpatory evidence and that judges should convict Somethea and Chanry.

Somethea’s defense lawyer, Sao Noeun, admitted his client possessed marijuana, but said it did not have addictive properties, and that the gas-powered guns were actually lighters. He questioned the timeline of when Somethea gave Chanry the money and the time of the arrest in Phnom Penh — saying it showed his client was innocent.

In his final plea, Somethea said the court should acquit him, reminding them of his past “achievements” with drug busts.

“Please, investigate this thoroughly to avoid the criminals from being free while the police are being sent to jail.”

A verdict is expected on September 16.

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