C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 PHNOM PENH 000983
STATE FOR EAP/MLS, INL/AAE–PETER PRAHAR AND YANTI KAPOYOS, INL/C–GREG STANTON
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/23/2016
TAGS: SNAR, PGOV, CB, TW
SUBJECT: CAMBODIA: DRUG SEIZURES AND ARRESTS UP
1. (U) SUMMARY: May 19 and 20 arrests of two Taiwanese nationals attempting to smuggle a total of nearly 7 kg of heroin to Taiwan highlight increased drug arrests and seizures in Cambodia. The quantity of heroin seized during the weekend airport busts is large by Cambodian standards–authorities seized just 11 kg of heroin in 2005. Seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants are more than double last year’s levels. Police and international observers credit USG and other foreign training with providing skills, motivation, and international pressure for the increase, but say that narcotics trafficking may also be on the rise. END SUMMARY.
Heroin Seizures at Phnom Penh International Airport
2. (U) Police and customs officials seized nearly 7 kg of heroin and arrested three Taiwanese nationals in two separate incidents at Phnom Penh International Airport on May 19 and 20. These two cases represent an impressive intake for one weekend given that in 2005 Cambodian authorities seized just over 11 kg of heroin.
3. (SBU) Chen Hsin Hung, 57, was arrested on May 19 carrying 4.75 kg of heroin with a local street value of USD 95,000 to 133,000. Customs officials became suspicious when they noticed that Hung was carrying several bags of imported Taiwanese foil-wrapped candies back to Taiwan in his hand luggage. The candies turned out to be foil-wrapped packages of heroin. Hung, who was due to travel to Taiwan via Kuala Lumpur on Malaysian Airlines flight 755, had arrived in Phnom Penh the previous day. During his police interrogation, Hung said that he had been picked up at the airport and returned to the airport by a couple, whom the police identified as a Cambodian woman and a mainland Chinese or Taiwanese man. Police are attempting to locate the couple.
4. (SBU) A second Taiwanese man, who was standing near Chen Hsin Hung during the security process, appeared to be quite interested in the proceedings and upset by Hung’s arrest, and had tickets for the same flight as Hung, was also arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking. Moek Dara noted that the investigation had revealed no evidence to indicate that the second individual was also involved in drug smuggling, but that it was the prosecutor’s decision how to proceed in the case.
5. (SBU) On May 20, a 90-year-old Taiwanese national named Huang Sang Hou was arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport with 1.9 kg of heroin, worth USD 38,000 to USD 53,000. Hou reportedly came to Cambodia as a tourist intending to gamble. Over the course of a week, he lost the USD 4,000 he brought with him, borrowed an additional USD 2,000 from a Taiwanese national in Phnom Penh, and then lost that money as well. The Taiwanese lender then persuaded Hou to carry the heroin back to Taiwan. Airport customs officials were tipped off by the sloppy manner in which the heroin was packed on Hou’s body, making him appear bloated. Hou cooperated with the police in identifying the Taiwanese lender, and Cambodian government officials have already passed his name, address, and passport information to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Hou had been planning to fly Dragon Airlines flight 207 to Hong Kong, and then to continue on to Taiwan.
Amphetamine Seizures, Prices on the Rise
6. (SBU) According to statistics from the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Drug Police and the National Authority for Combating Drugs (NACD), seizures of amphetamine-type stimulant (ATS) tablets more than doubled when comparing the first four months of 2006 with the first four months of 2005. From January to April 2006, more than 220,000 ATS tablets were seized, whereas from January to April 2005, approximately 87,000 ATS tablets were seized. The number of offenders arrested also rose from 154 from January to April 2005 to 204 during January to April 2006.
7. (U) Both Brigadier General Moek Dara, Director of the Anti-Drugs Department, and World Health Organization XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that prices for ATS tablets have risen in the past few years, with particularly dramatic increases in the past 12 months. One year ago, a single ATS tablet sold for approximately one dollar in Phnom Penh, but now costs two to three dollars. Moek Dara noted that prices rise as the ATS tablets make their way along the drug route, from fifty cents per tablet in Laos, where the
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majority are produced, to USD 3 in Cambodia, and then even higher prices in two destination countries: USD 4 in Vietnam and USD 7.50 in Thailand. XXXXXXXXXXXX cited anecdotal evidence from NGOs that some ATS users are switching to injecting heroin, currently available for USD 1.50 to 2 in Phnom Penh, as a cheaper alternative to rising ATS prices.
Lower Ecstasy Seizures Likely Point to Disrupted Network ——————————————— ———–
8. (U) In contrast to the dramatic rise in ATS seizures, seizures of ecstasy tablets are down sharply, from 1,900 in January to April 2005 to less than 800 in January to April 2006. Moek Dara and XXXXXXXXXXXX believe that lower levels of ecstasy seizures are a sign that supply has been disrupted following a cooperative DEA/Anti-Drug Police controlled delivery operation against the Peter Brown drug ring in 2004 and continued Anti-Drug Police action against the ring in 2005.
USG Training Provides Needed Skills, International Pressure
9. (SBU) Moek Dara gave much of the credit for the dramatic increase in heroin and ATS seizures and drug arrests to counternarcotics training funded by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and conducted by the DEA. Before the training sessions, which were conducted in January and April 2006, police officers along Cambodia’s porous northern border were not very active and would not even conduct foot patrols in the forest, according to Moek Dara. Now, however, the officers have more skills and are more motivated to patrol actively, he said, and have seized drugs and a lot of drug production equipment as well. Customs, immigration, and police officials at the airports are also better trained and more active, and Moek Dara noted that all of the officials involved in the weekend’s airport arrests had completed DEA training.
10. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX gave partial credit for increased anti-drug activity to counternarcotics training by the US and other foreign donors. Some high-ranking Cambodian police and military officials are rumored to be complicit in narcotics trafficking, he noted. He speculated that the training and pressure on the Cambodian government to clamp down on drug activity has finally made an impression on higher ranking officials, and lower-level officers are „being allowed“ to make more seizures. At the same time, such a dramatic increase is probably also an indication of efforts to traffic increased amounts of ATS through Cambodia, he opined.
Trainees Enthusiastic about INL/DEA Courses
11. (U) Provincial Anti-Drug Police officers who attended the January Basic Counternarcotics course reported uniformly enthusiastic assessments to an embassy follow-up survey. Participating police captains reported an increased awareness of drug smuggling tactics, best practices in seizing and preparing evidence, and how to identify drugs using field test kits. Captain Preap Sovann of the Svay Rieng Anti-Drug Police noted that the training also promoted inter-agency and inter-province cooperation as well. All captains reported training their staffs in the key topics covered by the DEA training, and captains in Koh Kong and Pursat provinces reported conducting anti-drug outreach to primary and secondary school students as well. Trainees suggested that future courses provide written materials in Khmer as well as English, include information on money laundering, have more laboratory equipment available for in-class practice in drug identification, and include more time in simulations.
Police Officer Arrested on Drug Charges
11. (C) Nov Sophal, a municipal police officer in the southern city of Kep, was arrested on April 15 and charged with trafficking 1 kg of heroin. Moek Dara was not expansive when asked about the case, noting simply that it is not uncommon for low-ranking police and military officials to be arrested for drug trafficking. In contrast, XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that drug investigations of police or military officials are very rare, and speculated that the individual involved may even have run afoul of rumored higher-level police involvement in narcotics.
12. (SBU) COMMENT: While increased smuggling activity may
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account for some of the increased seizures and arrests, it is clear that the Cambodian government is turning up the heat on the country’s drug smugglers. Training from the USG and other countries is playing a critical role in supporting this effort–both through the skills and enthusiasm imparted to the participants, and also through the implicit expectations of improved performance on the part of the police and other officials.