District Police Chief Being Investigated for Timber Trafficking

Military police in Kompong Thom province say they are investigating a local district police chief and his wife over allegations that they were involved in illegal logging inside the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary.

Provincial military police chief Hang Thol said on Tuesday that the allegations were leveled by six men whom his officers arrested on Saturday while they were trying to take two trucks packed with timber from a Forestry Administration office in Sandan district. He said his officers had seized the trucks and timber—14 cubic meters of second-grade wood—inside the sanctuary on January 11, while the loggers escaped.

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A billboard in the center of Snuol town in Kratie province warns passersby of the theoretical consequences of illegal logging. (Enric Catala)

“The six people told us they were transporting the wood for the Sandan district police chief’s wife, but we do not yet know for sure who really owns the wood and the trucks because we are now investigating,” he said.

Mr. Thol said he only knew the wife of the district police chief, Oung Maly, as Ms. Phanny.

The military police chief said he was also investigating the Forestry Administration office to learn how the six had accessed the seized trucks on Saturday. He said his officers were tipped off to their activity by district governor Long Kisoeung, who was exercising nearby.

Mr. Maly, the district police chief, said he did not own the trucks and denied his wife’s involvement.

“This accusation is not true,” he said. “My wife does not do timber business. She is a housewife and stays at home.”

“I know who owns the trucks and the wood,” Mr. Maly said. “But I refuse to say.”

Tep Yeata, who runs the Forestry Administration cantonment in charge of the province, claimed the six men arrested on Saturday had not come to retrieve the loaded trucks, which were parked outside the district office compound, and were only there to fix a tire on one of the vehicles.

“They just came to fix the tire because it was flat,” he said.

Mr. Yeata said he did not know who owned the trucks because his officers were also still investigating. But he added that he had already determined, without saying how, that the owner was not involved in any logging and would only pay a fine for transporting timber without a permit if he or she came to claim it.

When asked why six people would come to fix a flat tire on a seized truck if they had no intention of driving it, and were not involved in logging or collecting the timber loaded onto it, Mr. Yeata replied: “I have no idea.”

Provincial court prosecutor

Ith Sothea said the six men arrested on Saturday were charged the following day for their alleged attempt to retrieve the seized trucks and had been placed in detention to await trial. He referred further questions about the case to deputy prosecutor Meas Vattana, who declined to comment.

Local media reported that three of the six were themselves Forestry Administration officers, but Mr. Thol, the provincial military police chief, and Mr. Kisoeung, the district governor, said those reports were false.

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