Police in Mondolkiri province yesterday arrested a former military police officer with two outstanding warrants after chasing down his SUV and finding a cache of illegally sourced luxury wood inside.
Authorities had been searching for Sou Marith, 37, for many months over his alleged involvement in the illicit timber trade, including an incident in which he held a gun to the head of the Keo Seima district governor.
On Wednesday, O’Reang district military police commander So Sam Ath said his officers had been on patrol when they spotted Mr. Marith’s Lexus SUV driving along National Road 76 at about 5:30 a.m. Then they noticed that the vehicle was riding suspiciously low to the ground, as though it were carrying something exceptionally heavy, and tried to flag it down so they could inspect it, he said.
“We tried to check it, but they did not stop and kept driving, so our police chased them,” Mr. Sam Ath said. But the officers failed to keep up, he said, so they called ahead to their colleagues in Keo Seima, where the SUV was headed.
“It was not easy to arrest those wood dealers,” he said. “We chased them from behind, and the other military police in Keo Seima district blocked their way in front. Then we were able to arrest them.”
Mr. Sam Ath said they had found Mr. Marith at the wheel of the SUV, which he owned, and three other passengers, along with eight pieces of luxury-grade Thnong wood, which can fetch thousands of dollars per cubic meter. They sent the men and the wood to the provincial military police headquarters.
Provincial military police could not be reached for comment.
The head of the Forestry Administration’s Mondolkiri cantonment, Chuy Sokheang, who questioned the men, said he would continue interrogating them today before sending them to court. He said the three passengers—Prieng Manet, 34; Prum Mani, 17; and Seng Puttra, 29—were all carpenters.
Prior to his arrest on Wednesday, Mr. Marith was already wanted for two separate incidents.
In 2014, he allegedly held a pistol to the head of Keo Seima governor Sin Vanvuth in an attempt to free the drivers of an SUV that the governor had helped pull over for transporting illegally sourced luxury wood. And in February, Mr. Marith allegedly shot at military police and forestry officials who had followed a timber-laden car to his home, then managed to flee the scene.
Keo Seima police chief Sun Bunthoeun said Mr. Marith had been wanted for extortion for the former offense and for illegal timber stockpiling for the latter.
“We’re so happy they were able to arrest the suspect this time,” he said. “The court issued arrest warrants a long time ago, but he could not be arrested until today.”