Nine Nigerian nationals and a Cambodian woman were convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday on charges of drug trafficking and sentenced to between five and 13 years in prison.
Police alleged the group was trafficking almost one kilogram of crystal methamphetamine through a local church in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district in 2015.
Presiding judge Khy Chhay said Okorom Nhabu Favor, 36, Sunday Nwabusi, 31, and Okarom Kizito Chimedu, 35, were sentenced to six years in prison and fined 10 million riel (about $2,500).
Nnamezie Victor, 30, and Simon Maduka Ukadu, 45, were each given seven-year sentences and fines of 13 million riel (about $3,000). Francis Nnamedi, 30, and Tony Mmaduka Chuwuonye, 34, will spend eight years in prison and be forced to pay fines of 14 million riel (about $3,400).
Izuchukwu Chuwuma, 40, was sentenced to five years in prison and a 12 million riel fine.
Uche Chukwu Ukadu, 40, was charged in absentia and given a 13-year sentence and 14 million riel fine. Police believe he was the leader of the drug ring.
“The court has ordered police to seek the arrest of Uche Chukwu Ukadu and bring him to serve the term of his punishment in prison as is the court’s verdict,” judge Chhay said.
“I am ordering the deportation of these accused Nigerians from Cambodia once they have completed their prison terms.”
Their Cambodian accomplice, 31-year-old Morn Vinyung, was given an eight-year sentence and a 14 million riel fine. She was allegedly Mr. Chuwuonye’s girlfriend at the time of their arrest.
They were all charged with “drug trafficking” under article 40 of the Law on Drug Control after being arrested by the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug department in January 2015.
Captain Proeung Pheap, deputy chief of the Anti-Drug unit at the Interior Ministry, said the nine men were part of an international drug ring allegedly using the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries church as a front for their operation.
The church and its founders have denied any connection with the controversy and the pastor in charge of the Phnom Penh branch said he had never met or heard of any of the men involved in the case.
Oladele Bank-Olemoh, chairman of MFM Media Committee Worldwide – a Pentecostal church founded in Yaba, Nigeria, in 1989 with branches in the US, Canada, Europe, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia – told Nigerian news outlet Sunday Punch last month that the men had no connection to MFM in any capacity and were lying about their roles within the church, before claiming the church was still functioning.
“The MFM church is not shut down. Our pastor is there and he’s busy in the ministry. Those arrested are not members of the church,” he said.
“They are neither our missionaries nor workers in the church. The MFM church is the only African church in Cambodia that many black people attend,” he said.
Capt. Pheap added that police were still hard at work on the case because the ringleader – Mr. Chukwu – was still on the run.
“The chief of the group was Uche Chukwu, who escaped. He is a big drug ringleader in Asia,” he said. “Police are working to arrest him.”
Police discovered the ring when Mr. Mmaduka Chuwuonye sent his girlfriend – Ms. Vinyung – to deliver drugs to undercover police three separate times at Sovanna supermarket in Chamkarmon district in early January 2015.
Both were arrested on the day of the third delivery, and police subsequently raided three homes in Boeung Tumpon commune on January 8 and 9, capturing the rest of the group.
One other Cambodian woman was arrested, but she was found to have no involvement in the drug ring and was eventually released. At the three homes, police found six large packages of crystal methamphetamine weighing 802 grams as well as other drug paraphernalia.
Initially, all of the defendants claimed they were innocent of the charges, but over the course of the trial, some admitted to involvement in the scheme and claimed Mr. Chukwu Ukaduwas in charge of the ring.
But Mr. Chimedu, Mr. Victor’s brother and an assistant at his alleged church, claimed to have nothing to do with drug dealing but was arrested when police raided his home in Boeung Tumpon commune on January 8. Police found no drugs or paraphernalia at his home during their raid, he said.
“I was a church assistant, and my job was to prepare bibles and prayer ceremonies for foreigners every weekend,” he said. “I have never smoked or used drugs in my life. I’ve never even seen drugs.”
All of the men said they would appeal the verdict.