Court Frees Man Arrested for Thwarting Timber Chase

A man arrested for using his Lexus SUV to block officials chasing a suspected timber smuggler in Mondolkiri province was released without charge on Wednesday after claiming that he was not the one driving.

Seng Sophon was pulled over on Tuesday morning after speeding ahead of five military police and Forestry Administration cars tailing a luxury-wood laden Toyota sedan on National Road 76 in Keo Seima district, according to provincial military police commander Sak Sarang.

Mr. Sophon’s wild swerving had allowed the Toyota to escape, and the pursuing officers stopped him on a small dirt road, where he climbed out of his car and surrendered, Brigadier General Sarang said at the time.

“Our authorities stopped his car and arrested him at the scene,” he said.

So Sovithya, a deputy prosecutor at the Mondolkiri Provincial Court, said he authorized the arrest when the frustrated officials called him mid-chase.

On Wednesday, however, the prosecutor said that Mr. Sophon—whom he alternately referred to as a farmer and a businessman—was released after claiming he was wrongfully arrested.

According to Mr. Sovithya, Mr. Sophon told the court that he had loaned his Lexus to a friend, who then ran interference for the Toyota.

“The man told us that he did not block authorities. Another person who borrowed his Lexus did,” the prosecutor said, adding that the friend fled on foot after the SUV was pulled over, apparently unseen by the arresting officers.

“Then he telephoned the man [Mr. Sophon] to tell him to collect his car, and when he went to his car, authorities arrested him,” Mr. Sovithya said, adding that the court believed Mr. Sophon’s story and so released him without charge.

“He was not found to be involved with the Toyota Camry that was transporting luxury wood,” he said, adding that Mr. Sophon had promised to inform authorities if he saw his friend.

Brig. Gen. Sarang could not be reached for comment about Mr. Sovithya’s claims.

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