Forestry Officials Summoned for Meeting Over Extortion Case

Sixteen forestry officials from three provinces were summoned to a meeting in Phnom Penh on Thursday after their names were found on a list of 49 suspected extortionists that police in Kompong Chhnang province seized from a truck that had been transporting illegally logged wood last week.

Police believe the document is a checklist of individuals—police, military police and Forestry Administration officials—the driver of the truck would have had to pay off along his smuggling route. When the vehicle was pulled over on January 26, it was loaded with furniture made of luxury-grade thnong and five pieces of the m’reas prov tree, from which safrole oil, a precursor to the drug Ecstasy, can be extracted.

Anti-Corruption Unit Chairman Om Yentieng on Tuesday asked for patience as his unit investigated the 49 officials, who are identified on the list by part of their name, a phone number and a location.

On Thursday, Chan Rithy, head of the Forestry Administration’s Southern Tonle Sap inspectorate, said he was expediting the investigation by questioning the Forestry Administration officials named.

“I invited all our officials for a meeting this morning and we asked them to build a biography detailing their job activities so we can inspect their work, and we will send a report to [Forestry Administration chief] Cheng Kimsun,” Mr. Rithy said.

All 16 officials were permitted to go back to their jobs after the meeting, he said.

“During the meeting, we instructed them to not commit corruption and have allowed them to return to work,” he said, declining to comment further.

Pursat provincial police chief Sarun Chanthy said Thursday that two police officials from Veal Veng district whose names appear on the list—deputy district police chief Sau Sem and another official whose name he said he could not recall—had already offered an explanation.

“They told me…that sometimes they bought [wooden] tables and beds and had them transported by taxi, which is why their telephone numbers were on the list,” he said.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith could not be reached.

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