A speeding car loaded with illegally logged luxury timber plowed through traffic in Banteay Meanchey on Friday, injuring two men and damaging several vehicles, police said.
The 2002-series Toyota Camry first hit a parked motorcycle, then took out a cyclist, and finally crashed into a homemade truck along National Road 6A in Serei Sophoan district’s Kompong Svay commune, Provincial Traffic Police Chief Chhoeum Sophon said.
The motorcycle driver was critically injured in the crash, while the cyclist received minor injuries and is being treated at the provincial referral hospital, Mr Sophon added.
The unidentified driver abandoned the vehicle, where police discovered about a half cubic meter of the illegal luxury wood known as Kranhuong cut into small pieces to fit into the car. Both the wood and the Camry are being held at provincial police headquarters.
Smuggling luxury wood in high-end passenger vehicles is common, Mr Sophon said, because police and forestry administration officials have a harder time identifying them as smugglers.
“Smugglers use expensive and modern cars, which is the key reason our officials have met a lot of difficulty in combating smuggling logs-their cars have such high speeds that we cannot chase them,” he said.
Smuggling illegal luxury timber is on the rise in Banteay Meanchey because the price of these woods has “absolutely skyrocketed,” according to Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.
“When I talked to log smugglers recently, they openly spoke of how lucrative their business is,” Mr Chankea said. “Each small carload of Kranhuong can yield $10,000 in profit.”
Because of these profits, smugglers don’t hesitate to pay the roughly $700 per month in bribes that corrupt police and forestry officials often demand, he added.
But officials on Friday dismissed Mr Chankea’s account, saying they have never taken under-the-table payments to ignore smugglers.
“I’ve been working as a forestry administration official for around 30 years,” said FA official Ros Neurn on Friday. “I have never taken even one riel for clearing the way for these log smugglers.”
Neither police nor forestry officials could explain how luxury wood cut to fit in passenger cars could be used or sold.
But contacted by phone yesterday, a businessman who was identified by sources as a luxury wood smuggler said that rare and expensive wood is often used in manufacturing automobile interiors.
The man, who gave his name as Daineang, said that Kranhuong and Tanong are the most important woods in the car production process and are often turned into steering wheels, dashboards and door panels for high-end cars.
“Just a small piece of luxurious wood turned into a car’s gearshift, that alone costs $50 to $70,” he said.