Four years after an elaborate multimillion-dollar logging scandal was discovered in Ratanakkiri province’s Virachey National Park, only one senior official is behind bars.
That man, Yoeung Baloung, Ratanakkiri’s former provincial police chief, on Tuesday appealed his 13-year jail sentence.
He was joined in his appeal by lawyers for Moeung Samoeun, former RCAF provincial commander, and Liam Say, former commander of RCAF’s Battalion 1, who were sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison for their crimes, but remain at large from the law, Court of Appeal Prosecutor Ngeth Sarath said Wednesday.
Eight government officials of various ranks were convicted in 2006 for stripping thousands of trees from the national park and trucking them over the border to Vietnam.
All were ordered to pay hefty individual fines and to collectively pay $15 million compensation to the Ministry of Environment.
Alongside Yoeung Baloung, seven were given lengthy prison terms in absentia, including: Former Ratanakkiri governor Kham Khoeun, Virachey National Park Director Koy Sokha, former border police chief Phon Sophat and his deputy, Keo Luna, who remain at large.
Tuesday’s hearing brought about renewed calls from opposition politicians and human rights organizations to apprehend the fugitives.
Court of Appeal judge Saly Theara said Wednesday that judges can only order arrests, not make them. “It is not my authority to make arrests,” he said, adding: “Judges only issue summons.”
Saly Theara said that a verdict in the appeal of the three officials would be announced April 30.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann, who chairs the National Assembly’s Interior Commission, said that if the government could apprehend former Phnom Penh Police Chief Heng Pov in Malaysia, it could easily arrest the Virachey Park fugitives—if it really wanted to.
“It is a matter of will. As in Heng Pov’s case, in any country, arrests could be made,” he said.
“If you have money and power, you get away all the time [in Cambodia],” he added.
Adhoc’s Ratanakkiri province coordinator Pen Bonnar said Wednesday he had heard a rumor that Kham Khoeun, a well-known CPP figure, was living in Laos.
“If the government is willing to find them, they could make the arrests, as they did in the case of Heng Pov,” he said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said that police are on the case. “We are finding them,” he said.
“You must remember that a egret forgets the trap. But a trap never forgets the egret.”
Yin Kim Sean, a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Environment, said that park rangers are working with police to apprehend the fugitives.
“We are looking for them. We don’t know where they are,” he said.
“We don’t want the charges dropped.”