The Takeo Provincial Court has summoned a military police official over allegations that he demanded a bribe from timber smugglers to release them, weeks after the official’s boss claimed that an internal investigation had cleared him of wrongdoing.
Government-aligned news outlets CEN and Fresh News reported on June 10 that four military police officers, including a deputy provincial chief of staff, Sok Lesh, had stopped two vans the night before that were smuggling luxury-grade logs to Vietnam in breach of a timber export ban. The reports claimed that journalists at the scene overheard the officers demanding $1,500 from the smugglers before letting them go.
On Tuesday, a deputy prosecutor for the provincial court, Phan Sopheak, said he had issued a summons for Mr. Lesh on June 14 to appear for questioning on July 14. Mr. Sopheak said he had also summoned one of the suspected smugglers who allegedly paid the bribe, a man he knew only as Mi, for questioning on July 12.
“We are not sure whether Mr. Sok Lesh committed the crime. But we have to ask the timber trader first whether he gave money to Mr. Sok Lesh. Then we will ask him [Mr. Lesh] if he really received the money from the wood trader,” the deputy prosecutor said.
Mr. Sopheak said he did not know the identities of the other officers allegedly involved, but would decide whether to summon them after questioning Mr. Lesh next week.
Mr. Lesh could not be reached for comment.
Provincial military police commander La Lay said he had not seen a summons for his deputy cabinet chief and did not know whether he would attend the scheduled questioning.
The day after the news reports were published, Brigadier General Lay said he had already conducted an investigation into the allegations, on orders from provincial governor Lay Vannak, and concluded that the four officers were innocent.
The government imposed a ban on all timber exports to Vietnam in January last year. But Vietnamese customs data indicate that tens of millions of dollars worth of timber continue to cross the border.