Police Link Kith Meng to Illegal Wood Racket

The National Police on Tuesday published a brief but scathing report on business mogul Kith Meng, citing anonymous sources who accuse his company of using its license to log the reservoir of the nearly completed Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam to launder timber.

Mr. Meng’s Royal Group, which is building the 400-megawatt dam with Chinese partners in Stung Treng province, has handed the job of clearing the 36,000-hectare reservoir to a subsidiary, Ang & Associates Lawyers.

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Officials inspect a truck in Tbong Khmum province in late March. (Fresh News)

Locals and NGOs have been accusing the logging operation of using the reservoir to launder timber illegally logged elsewhere for years with impunity. Tuesday’s report, posted to the National Police website, adds official weight to those claims.

“Forest destruction in Sesan district and timber smuggling for sale in Vietnam is happening in the name of the company clearing the Lower Sesan II reservoir, which belongs to Oknha Kith Meng, but authorities ignore and overlook it and do not prevent it,” the report says.

“People report that the bottom of the reservoir that Kith Meng’s company was licensed to clear has no big trees. Yet the manager of the company, named Seng, colludes with, and recruits, local people to log the forest outside the bottom of the reservoir, and then collects [the timber] and places them at the bottom of the reservoir to make illegal timber become legal.”

According to sources, the report says, Mr. Meng handed the logging operation over to an “Oknha Chhey,” who in turn handed operations over to two others, Tim Bunlin and San Choy. The same sources, it adds, say Mr. Bunlin and Mr. Choy are buying up timber in different communes and either sneaking it into the reservoir or hiding it underwater.

“Kith Meng’s logging of state-timber outside the reservoir is causing concern about the loss of natural resources in Sesan district and of imminent disaster if not prevented,” the report ends.

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Kith Meng, right, poses with Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem in front of Lower Sesan II dam last month in Stung Treng province, in a photograph posted to Facebook by one of Mr. Meng’s employees.

The report does not say what, if any, action police are taking to address the reported timber laundering.

National police spokesman Kirth Chantharith could not be reached on Tuesday and Stung Treng provincial police chief Mao Dara declined to comment.

Provincial governor Mom Saroeun also declined to comment.

Lean Seng, director of the province’s agriculture department, denied the report’s claims.

“It doesn’t happen,” he said. “Officials from the Agriculture Ministry have come to inspect.”

Mr. Meng, reached by phone, said he was in a meeting in Beijing and hung up.

In a related case from late March, authorities in Tbong Khmum province seized two trucks transporting timber from the Lower Sesan reservoir for Ang & Associates. The drivers told authorities that they were driving the timber to Vietnam, despite a ban on all timber exports to Vietnam that has been in place since January last year.

The day The Cambodia Daily published a story about the seizures, a man named Kim Seng, identifying himself as a representative for Ang & Associates, called the reporter who wrote it and offered to pay his editors to take the story offline.

Authorities later released the two trucks and the timber without explanation.

Earlier this month, the Environmental Investigation Agency, a U.K. NGO, released the results of an undercover investigation exposing a major illegal logging operation in Ratanakkiri province, just east of Stung Treng. Vietnamese timber traders told the investigators that their companies were bribing local authorities in the province to let them log in protected areas and smuggle the timber across the border.

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