The Appeal Court announced to an all but empty courtroom Wednesday its decision to uphold the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s 2006 guilty verdicts against several former senior officials involved in the Virachey National Park illegal logging scandal.
On Nov 23, 2006, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Ratanakkiri’s former provincial police chief Yoeung Baloung to 13 years in prison for his involvement in the sophisticated multimillion-dollar logging racket, which stripped trees from the national park and trucked them across the border to Vietnam.
Saly Theara, chief of the three-judge panel hearing the appeal, announced the court’s decision to uphold the verdict against Yoeung Baloung, as well as two other senior officials who are still at large.
“The Court of Appeal understands that there is enough [evidence] of environmental destruction and taking bribes,” Saly Theara said as he read the decision to the two people in attendance at the hearing.
On April 1, Yoeung Baloung 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 each sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison, but remain at large. Former Provincial Forestry Administration Director Khorn Sareth, who was sentenced in 2006 to two years’ probation, also appealed his sentence at the April 1 hearing. Former Ratanakkiri Provincial Governor Kham Khoeun was also convicted of involvement in the crime but has been at large since 2006.
Saly Theara said the court upheld the 2006 verdicts against Moeung Samoeun and Khorn Sareth, but declined to hear Liam Say’s appeal because it was not filed correctly.
None of the guilty men or their lawyers appeared in court Wednesday.
Prosecutor Ngeth Sarath said by telephone that it was normal for the Appeal Court to announce decisions in virtual solitude, saying: “It is normal—it was held during working hours.”
Environment Ministry Secretary of State Yin Kim Sean welcomed Wednesday’s decision despite the fact that two of the convicted are still at large.
“We don’t know where they are. What can we do?” he said.