Police ties to gun sale raising eyebrows

A case of a drug-dealing police officer last week has become an embarrassing smoking gun for authorities in Stung Treng province, with soldiers and police embroiled in a blame game.

Em Sophal, a provincial immigration police officer, was arrested on February 8 with 24,000 meth pills and a K59 pistol – which he should not have owned for private use due to his low rank.

Sophal told police he had bought the gun from a soldier, prompting that soldier – Orn Socheat – to deny the sale, alleging instead that police had stolen the firearm from him.

Socheat’s accusation saw Major Sai Chhun Leang, deputy director of the provincial anti-human trafficking bureau, pen a long letter to local newspaper Koh Santepheap to clarify the situation.

Leang said he had facilitated the sale of Socheat’s gun to his then-colleague Sophal in 2009.

“Em Sophal relied on me to buy a pistol . . . and considering he was a police officer, I told Orn Socheat,” who was willing to part with the weapon for $500, he said.

According to Leang, the soldier delivered the gun, wrapped in pink cloth, to his home. Leang then went to Sophal’s home, handed over the gun, and paid the “total amount” to Socheat.

Efforts to reach Sophal and Socheat were unsuccessful yesterday, but provincial police deputy chief Sann Minol said the judge was investigating the accusations brought by both the police and the military.

The frank admission that police and soldiers were involved in the trade of arms and drugs comes amid the government’s ongoing war on drugs.