More than 100 tons of drug precursors were seized this week after being legally imported into the country with the signature of authorities, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said, challenging ministries to better control chemical imports.
Customs and the Commerce Ministry, however, deflected responsibility for allowing the trade.
Kheng, speaking at an official ceremony on Tuesday, did not name the drug, chemical or specific ministry, but said officers had seized the precursors three days prior.
They had been legally imported and signed off by authorities, he said.
“So I would like to ask the ministry, the licensing ministry — I don’t have to say it — the licensing ministry. Please, his excellencies, consider this story,” he said. “Otherwise, you will be wronging Cambodian society by being involved in destroying public health.”
He said the National Authority for Combating Drugs should advise various ministries on drug precursors to prevent their continued approval of imports.
Pen Socheat, spokesperson for the Commerce Ministry, said the ministry would review the situation.
“Please be informed that the most important duty among the relevant institutions is with the general department of customs and excise, who works directly on this at the border,” he said.
Khun Nhim, a director in the customs department, which falls under the Finance Ministry, said other ministries were the ones issuing licenses for the import of chemicals, which customs then enforced.
“It depends on the good. Some goods are controlled by the Industry Ministry, some goods are controlled by the Commerce Ministry, and some by the Health Ministry or Mines,” he said. “We have a sub-decree, sub-decree No. 17 on protected goods, [which] must be licensed by the Commerce Ministry before being imported.”
Customs would not allow imports if there was no license first issued by the ministry, which is responsible for the license, Nhim said.
Transparency International Cambodia director Pech Pisey said the government needed to get to the bottom of who was allowing the imports.
“Even if it involves powerful officials or rich family relatives, we should not make an exception so that we can solve the problem,” Pisey said.
A raid on a Kampong Speu mango processing plant in December netted 80 tons of ketamine precursors, according to national antidrug police chief Mok Chito. Cambodia has been increasingly targeted by international organized crime for the production of synthesized drugs, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said last year.