PHNOM PENH, May 9 (Xinhua). A Cambodian court on Tuesday convicted a Romanian and a Nigerian of cross-border drug smuggling, and sentenced both of them to life in prison.
Romanian man Adrian-Calin Varadi, 40, was caught on Aug. 14, 2016 when he arrived at the Phnom Penh International Airport from Brazil with 4.96 kg of cocaine hidden in his luggage.
Nigerian man Chukwuemeka Ibe, 35, was arrested later that day when he waited at his hotel room to receive the drugs to take them to neighboring Thailand.
The duo are charged with “illegally transporting the drugs” under the country’s Drug Law, said a verdict read by Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s Presiding Judge Im Vannak.
“The court decides to sentence each of them to life in prison and to fine them 40 million riel (10,000 U.S. dollars) each,” the verdict said.
During a trial last month, Varadi confessed to the crime, but Ibe denied the charge, claiming that he did not know the package he supposed to receive was carrying drug.
Under the Cambodian law, the convicts have one month to appeal against the ruling.
Adrian-Calin Varadi, 40, was arrested as he arrived into Phnom Penh International Airport carrying 14 packages of cocaine in his luggage.
Chukwuemeka Ibe, 35, was caught later that day as he waited to receive the drugs to take them to Thailand.
Presiding judge Im Vannak said the pair have been charged with drug trafficking and are facing life sentences in prison if convicted.
Major Sin Sophal, deputy director of the anti-drug intervention unit at the Interior Ministry, said the suspects were drug mules and not ringleaders.
He said Cambodian police made the arrests after a tip-off from the US Drug Enforcement Administration based in Brazil.
“The Romanian suspect Mr. Varadi was arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport on the afternoon of August 14. Customs officers found 14 packages of cocaine hidden in his bag,” he said.
Based on information given by Mr. Varadi during interrogation, police arrested Mr. Ibe, who had traveled from Thailand to receive the drugs at the City Center Hotel in Phnom Penh.
“The Nigerian suspect Mr. Ibe was arrested at his hotel, where he was waiting to receive the drugs in order to transfer them to the buyer in Thailand,” he said.
At yesterday’s trial, the pair pleaded for leniency.
Mr. Varadi said the drugs had been given to him by an unidentified man from Brazil. The man paid for his travel, food and accommodation, and promised him 20,000 euros (about $21,500) to deliver the packages to Mr. Ibe in Phnom Penh, he said.
“I am not a drug trafficker and only did it because I needed the money,” he told the court. “I would like to ask for a reduced sentence.”
Mr. Ibe said he had no idea he was supposed to be transporting drugs.
A Nigerian friend living in Bangkok paid him 10,000 baht (about $300) to travel to Cambodia and pick up a package on his behalf, he said. The man was identified only as James.
“I am not a drug smuggler,” he said. “James didn’t tell me the package contained drugs. I only realized after I was arrested.”
He asked the court to drop the charges and set him free.