A contractor accused of illegal land clearing in Ratanakkiri province said Thursday that he is innocent of any wrongdoing and was only fulfilling the terms of a contract he signed with the wife of a senior government official.
Sien Sophal, 51, stands accused of clearing trees from farmland and forests in Lumphat district’s Seda commune, said provincial court Prosecutor Mey Sokhan.
“He just claimed he was innocent and he was hired for clearing and cutting down the trees,” Mey Sokhan said before directing further questions to the forestry administration officials.
Leng Yuk, a Lumphat forestry administration officer, said Sien Sophal was caught “red-handed” in December felling trees in the area.
Contacted by telephone Thursday, Sien Sophal said he is the victim in the case. He said he did not purchase or own the land, but was only hired to clear it.
“I have a document to prove that I am a contractor hired by a wife of a senior official to clear trees from the farmland,” he said. “I am really concerned the court will not take action against the other party who hired me to clear her land.”
When asked, Sien Sophal declined to name his client or her husband.
However, Pen Bonnar, provincial coordinator for the local rights group Adhoc, said San Chanthy, the wife of Huy Pisith, an undersecretary of state for the Ministry of National Defense, owns the land and requested it be cleared.
A copy of a contract dated Dec 4, which names both San Chanthy and Sien Sophal, backed up his claim. Listing Sien Sophal as “Party A,” the contract says he guarantees to clear the area while “Party B,” San Chanthy, would take “responsibility in front of authorities concerning activities in clearing the trees.”
“The majority of serious crimes related to deforestation for land and for luxury woods are mostly committed by powerful and rich people,” Pen Bonnar said.
Neither San Chanthy nor Huy Pisith could be reached for comment Thursday.