CAMBODIA – A 19-year-old French woman, a former teacher from Australia and a 23-year-old Nigerian man were each sentenced to between 23 and 27 years in prison after being convicted of heroin trafficking at Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Charlene Savarino, 19, was sentenced to 25 years and fined $12,500; Yoshe Ann Taylor, 41, was given 23 years and the same fine; and Precious Chneme Nwoko was sentenced to 27 years and fined $20,000.
All were charged with drug trafficking after Savarino and Taylor were caught at Phnom Penh International Airport with a backpack containing 2.2 kilograms of heroin in September. Taylor was to catch a flight to Australia.
Chneme Nwoko was arrested hours later, and the two women claimed during their April 9 trial that they were not aware the backpack he had given Taylor to pass to a friend in Australia, which was packed with souvenirs, contained the drugs.
“Based on the hearing and the real evidence which was seized by police, the court has found them guilty [of international drug trafficking],” presiding judge Kor Vandy said in court yesterday as he read the verdict.
Two Nigerian men, identified only as Martin, 39, and Antony, 27, were also convicted in absentia yesterday and sentenced to 27 years in prison in connection with the case.
Lieutenant Colonel Kong Narin, deputy chief of the police’s anti-terrorism department, said police had spent three months investigating and monitoring the group of five, who they believed were part of an international drug-trafficking network, after receiving a tip-off from Australian authorities.
“They were arrested by our Cambodian anti-terrorism police based on a report from Australian anti-drug police after they seized a stash [of heroin] sent from Cambodia to Australia in early 2013,” he said.
Taylor wept as the verdict was announced yesterday. Both Savarino, who had attended Phnom Penh’s Lycee Rene Descartes school, according to her Facebook page, and Nwoko declined to comment while leaving the courthouse.
Pheng Heng, Nwoko’s lawyer, said he would appeal the decision.
“My client was arrested based on Australian police’s report only. But when he was arrested, police did not find or seize any drugs or evidence from him at all.”
Australia’s foreign affairs department confirmed yesterday that consular officers from the Australian Embassy supporting Taylor were present yesterday, had observed her court proceedings and had been providing consular assistance to her.