Five B’bang Men Sent to Court Over Extortion

Five men were sent to Battam­bang Provincial Court on Wednes­day on suspicion of extortion for al­legedly posing as journalists and NGO workers while demanding that villagers pay fines for doing environmental damage, officials said.

Police arrested the suspects Mon­day for allegedly going around Mong Russei district with cameras and handcuffs intimidating villagers by saying they would be imprisoned for doing things such as cutting down trees, unless they paid fines of up to $200, district police chief Kith Heang said.

The men were arrested after two families from Chrey commune complained to police that they were being threatened by the suspects, Kith Heang said by telephone, adding that eight families in the district claimed they were victims of the scam.

“It is obvious it is a scam because they demanded $200. After we received the complaint from the villagers, we arrested them,” he said.

Suspects Pov Sineath, 47, and San Sophourn, 36, both had media passes from the Ministry of In­formation and Soth Sampidou, 43, Sok Phalla, 32 and Chhin Neang carried NGO licenses from the Min­istry of Interior, he said. Their NGO was registered as the Environment and National Natural Resources Con­servation Associa­tion and had an office in the district, Kith Neang said, adding that the media passes were issued for Free Justice, a non-existent newspaper.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said he heard about the case and added it was difficult to check the activities of all NGOs registered at the ministry.

“There are about 2,000 registered NGOs in Cambodia. Some NGO members are right, some are wrong,” he said.

Pan Samithy, president of the Cambodian Club of Journalists, said the Ministry of Information should be more careful in its granting of media passes, adding, “This [type of] case is not new, it often happens.”

Information Minister Khieu Kan­harith said he was too busy to speak with a reporter Wednesday.

Battambang Provincial Court Prosecutor Sar Yosthavrak confirmed the suspects were sent to court Wednesday and said a provincial deputy prosecutor was examining the case.

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