The Appeal Court handed down its verdict yesterday in a case against three foreigners accused of attempting to smuggle more than two kilograms of heroin from Cambodia to Australia in 2013, upholding the municipal court’s decision to sentence all three to between 23 and 27 years in prison.
On May 24, 2014, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted 25-year-old Nigerian national Precious Chneme Nwoko of drug trafficking and sentenced him to 27 years in prison and fined him 80 million riel (about $20,000).
Charlene Savarino, a 21-year-old French national, was sentenced to 25 years in prison and slapped with a 50 million riel (about $12,500) fine on the same charge.
Australian Ann Taylor Yoshe, 43, was given a 23-year sentence and a 50 million riel fine.
The three were arrested on September 18, 2013, when they tried to smuggle the drugs to Australia in bags through Phnom Penh International Airport.
Pol Sam Oeun, the presiding judge at the Appeal Court, said: “Based on hearings and evidence, the Appeal Court has found that the judgment of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court was right and was made in accordance with the laws of Cambodia.”
According to court documents, two more men, allegedly from Nigeria, were accused of being involved in the drug smuggling operation.
Police are now searching for “Martin,” 39, and “Antony,” 27, who were both convicted in absentia and sentenced to 27 years in prison. Warrants for their arrest have been issued.
Kong Narin, the deputy chief of the anti-terrorism department, said the five people on trial were international drug traffickers who were hiding in Cambodia.
Police spent more than three months investigating their operation before they arrested them.
Police were tipped off about the drug ring when Australian Federal Police seized a large amount of heroin that had been shipped from Cambodia to Australia in early 2013.
Ms. Yoshe and Ms. Savarino were arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport while preparing to depart for Australia at 6pm on September 18, Mr. Narin said.
After their arrest, police found 2.2 kilograms of heroin in their luggage.
The women quickly confessed and implicated Mr. Chneme Nwoko, who was arrested at his home in Chamkarmon district’s Phsar Deum Thkov commune on the same day.
“Martin” and “Antony” allegedly fled the scene and have been at large since.
At their trials, Ms. Yoshe and Ms. Savarino said the drugs were not theirs and only belonged to Mr. Chneme Nwoko, who allegedly asked them to send it to someone living in Australia.
It was later revealed that Ms. Savarino and Mr. Chneme Nwoko were a couple.
Mr. Chneme Nwoko allegedly believed it would be easier for the women to smuggle the drugs into Australia because Ms. Yoshe was a citizen of the country.
“When I received luggage from Precious Chneme Nwoko, I did not know that there were drugs hidden inside of it. If I had known, I would not have taken it,” Ms. Savarino told the court.
“I only knew there were [drugs inside] when I was arrested by the police.”
Mr. Chneme Nwoko made similar statements during his own trial, saying the bags did not belong to him but to “another Nigerian man named Antony.”
All three have the right to appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court.
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