Lawyer Requests Leniency for Client Transporting Drugs ‘to Pay Off Debt’

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Police officers stand guard at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 16, 2017. (Samrang Pring/Reuters)

A South African man’s lawyer asked the Supreme Court on Friday to reduce the life sentence given to his client for possessing and transporting drugs, claiming the man was only a courier and acted under duress. 

The Supreme Court heard an appeal from Jacobus Dawie Botha, who was convicted in May 2017 by a lower court and sentenced to life in prison for possession, transportation and the dealing of drugs under Article 40 of the drug law. The Appeal Court upheld the verdict in November 2020, according to documents read out by judge Iv Kimsry.

Court documents show that Botha was arrested at the Phnom Penh International Airport in September 2016 after traveling from Brazil to Cambodia, via Dubai and Thailand. He was found with nearly 600 grams of cocaine in his stomach, according to a Cambodia Daily story from 2017.

Supreme Court prosecutor Bou Bunhang said Botha had admitted to possessing the drugs, which were in his digestive tract, while entering Cambodia. The prosecutor asked the court to uphold the sentence of life in prison. 

Defense lawyer Soeung Ratha did not dispute the possession of drugs in his arguments but instead pointed out the prison sentence was too harsh for the crime. He claimed the drugs belonged to Botha’s “boss” and that he was transporting them to pay off a debt, arguing these circumstances should have been considered when ruling on the case. The defendant was not present in court.

“Judges have to consider the facts and reasoning that made him commit crime,” Ratha said, referring to the verdict handed by the trial court.

Judge Nil Nonn was not convinced and asked Ratha to provide more evidence to back his assertion.

“These are his words. Do you have any evidence to prove he was in debt? You asked for mitigating circumstances, what evidence do you have?” Non queried.

Ratha said Article 40 of the drug law sets out a prison sentence of 20 years to life in prison and reiterated that picking the severe end of the sentencing guidelines was too harsh for Botha’s crime. He again repeated that his client was in debt and was transporting the drugs to pay off “someone in South Africa.”

Besides laying out prison terms, Article 40 of the drug law states that an accused can be fined about $10,000 if they are found in possession of morphine, heroin or cocaine, in quantities of 80 grams or more.    

A verdict is expected on December 3.

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