Gas-Smuggling Probe Eyes 11 Customs Officials

Eleven customs officials are un­der investigation following the May 15 discovery of 200 tons of illegally smuggled gasoline at the Phnom Penh port, a Ministry of Finance official said Friday.

The 11 men are posted at the Ka’am Samnor customs office on the Vietnamese border in Kandal prov­ince, where they collect taxes on goods coming from Ho Chi Minh city along the Mekong River, said Kun Nhem, Ministry of Fi­nance customs and excise deputy di­rector.

The unpaid import taxes on 200 tons of petroleum amount to approximately $75,000.

“Their role is to check import-ex­port documents,” Kun Nhem said. They had only indirect involvement in the smuggling, since their task was limited to paperwork, while Phnom Penh port’s customs staff is re­sponsible for inspecting shipments, he said.

The port’s Customs Director Soam Vutha was replaced on Thurs­day and is being questioned about the case.

Finance Ministry Secretary of State Chea Peng Chheang said on Friday that the ministry’s customs and excise director, Pen Siman, would take action following the discovery.

“If there was smuggling, it was a mistake of customs,” Chea Peng Chheang said. “If you are customs of­ficials, you can’t say ‘Sorry, I didn’t know there was smuggling.’”

Neither Pen Siman nor Ka’am Sam­nor customs officials could be reach­ed on Friday.

Yim Pheang, chief of the customs office at the Koh Thom district’s Chrey Thom checkpoint in Kan­dal prov­ince, said his staff confiscates about 10,000 liters of petroleum per month from small-time smugglers trying to bring it in from Vi­et­nam. Gas­oline in Vietnam costs about $0.80 per liter, compared to $1 in Phnom Penh, Yim Pheang said.

 

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