Eighty tons of ketamine precursors have been found following a fatal shootout and seizure of 1.4 tons of the drug that led authorities to a Kampong Speu lab, where a prominent agroindustrial company said it was merely leasing facilities within the same compound.
According to police reports, officers ambushed two cars on Sunday, setting up barricades that the alleged drug traffickers smashed through. The traffickers then opened fire on police, and officers fatally shot one of them, they say.
The number of reported arrests varied on Monday: National Authority for Combating Drugs secretary-general Meas Vyrith told of four, while deputy national police chief Mok Chito said there were more than 10.
“Some are masterminds, accomplices,” Chito said. “We are checking to find more.”
“It is a huge case,” Vyrith added. “A few people alone couldn’t do it, and we are burning our arms and legs to find all accomplices.”
The 1.4-ton haul was a major bust: UNODC says 5.9 tons of ketamine was seized in Southeast Asia for the whole of 2020. Ketamine was found at four reprocessing facilities in Cambodia that year, it adds.
The police report said the drug lab was operating under the cover of an alcohol disinfectant factory, and was owned by Ye Yanshou, 58. Government documents show Ye obtained Cambodian citizenship in 2015. The Commerce Ministry business registry lists Ye as a director for five companies in Oral district, in the businesses of chemical manufacture, logistics and real estate.
Vyrith said the lab was on the same compound as mango processor Richfarm Asia, and rejected early media confusion that the lab was a Richfarm facility.
Richfarm Asia is among the first companies to ship Cambodian mangoes to China.
Kampong Speu governor Vei Samnang added that though the lab was in Kampong Speu, the shooting happened in Preah Sihanouk province. He also denied that the lab had been operating under the guise of an alcohol factory. “Just a drug company,” he said.
Richfarm HR manager Kim Seng echoed that his company was merely on the same compound as the drug lab. The company had partnered with another firm, Long Wo Fruit, which operated the Kampong Speu facility to process dried mango.
Other businesses were on the same compound of about 30 hectares, he said. “We are on the same plot of land,” he said. “We rented the land to operate.”
“There was no involvement with Long Wo and Richfarm,” Seng said, adding that some media were confused by Richfarm’s signs within the compound.
The company where the drug lab was found had moved in around May, he said, adding that the mango season had ended in June.
“I used to exercise on that road and when I walked close to there, they pushed me out,” he said of the factory that turned out to be a drug lab. “I just walked for exercise and I did not commit anything wrong … I often had doubts about it.”
Richfarm also published a press release on Monday explaining that a company contracted as an “original equipment manufacturer” is located near the site of the drug bust, but neither Richfarm nor the contractor are related to the illegal activity.
“It is with regret that such publicity and unprofessional journalism have caused public misunderstanding to the detriment of our shareholders and company’s reputation,” it said. “The company therefore calls for the retract and correction of such publicity immediately or legal action will be pursued should it persist.”
Photos from the drug raid also showed the seized drugs in green bags marked “Baitang,” which is apparently linked to Richfarm.
Among Baitang’s directors is Vou Sopheaktevy, who, according to government-linked Fresh News, is the wife of Finance Ministry secretary of state Vongsey Visoth. They are the parents of Richfarm Asia director Vongsey Buddhiseth, according to the family’s social media posts.
One Baitang director is married to Finance Minister Aun Pornmoniroth, while Richfarm directors include Supreme National Economic Council senior adviser Mey Kalyan, Center for Policy Studies director Chan Sophal, Cambodia Rice Federation chair Hun Lak and Prak Khonndanie, the daughter of Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn.
Baitang deputy director-general Ny Lyheng said their bags were widely used for shipping hundreds of tons of rice to distributors.
“I have seen the sack in the picture,” Lyheng said. “I was surprised to see the news in Koh Santepheap, we saw the sack from us. But they were old sacks.”
Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga