Dragon’s Tail Logging Scandal Back in Court

Nearly a decade after a multimillion dollar illegal logging racket was uncovered in Ratanakkiri province’s Virachey National Park, and in which 14 senior provincial officials were eventually implicated, the case is back in the Appeal Court.

A lawyer representing Moeung Samoeun, the former provincial commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces who was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the illegal logging ring, appeared at the Appeal Court on Thursday, Presiding Judge Nguon Im said Monday.

“Moeung Samoeun is still at large, his lawyer [Chou Chanthyra] joined the hearing,” Judge Im said, adding that Mr. Samoeun was the only official of the 14 whose case was returned to the Appeal Court for further investigation after a Supreme Court hearing in January.

“The Supreme Court sent back only Moeung Samoeun’s case back to the Appeal Court, apart from him, the other cases were already upheld by the Supreme Court,” Mr. Im said, adding that the Appeal Court would hand down its decision on Mr. Samoeun’s case on December 3.

Among those officials whose lengthy sentences were upheld was former Ratanakkiri provincial governor Kham Khoeun, who remains at large and is rumored to be living in Laos. Eight other government officials were initially convicted in 2006 for their role in felling thousands of trees in the then-remote national park, also known as the Dragon’s Tail, and trucking the timber across the border to Vietnam.

The massive illegal logging operation was uncovered by the World Bank during a monitoring flight over the national park. The World Bank had provided almost $5 million in grants and credit toward a government program designed to protect the 332,500-hectare park, which is listed as an Asean Heritage Park, but is currently being logged by land concession companies.

Along with the provincial military commander Mr. Samoeun, and the governor Mr. Khoeun, the former provincial police chief Yoeung Baloung, Virachey National Park Director Koy Sokha, former border police chief Phon Sophat and several senior Forestry Administration officials were implicated in the elaborate logging scandal.

Almost all escaped prosecution and are apparently still at large.

Prosecutors for the government argued during a heated trial in 2006 that the provincial authorities colluded to allow Vietnamese logging firms pay up to $1 million to log in the protected park.

© 2013, All rights reserved.