Government Sells Last of Timber Seized by Task Force

The government has sold off the last of the roughly 70,000 cubic meters of illegally logged timber seized earlier this year by a special task force charged with cracking down on illicit timber stocks across eastern Cambodia.

Soung Mengkea, a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, said on Sunday that the government reached a deal on Friday with Ung Sitatvila, owner of V.Energy Logistics, who agreed to buy the remaining 60,393 cubic meters for 59.3 billion riel, or about $14.8 million.

The first 10,000 cubic meters had been sold off separately to three buyers in August, the bulk of it to rubber plantation owner Ing Sithat Virak.

Mr. Mengkea said most of the wood sold to Mr. Sitatvila last week was in Mondolkiri and the rest spread out across the provinces of Kratie, Ratanakkiri and Tbong Khmum, all where it was originally found.

He said Mr. Sitatvila will have 60 days to haul the wood away once the sale gets final approval—80 in case of bad weather—but added that the businessman would have to upgrade some local roads first so that they would be able to handle the weight.

The spokesman said V.Energy was an import company—he did not know of what products—and would be granted a license to operate a sawmill to turn the timber into furniture.

“We will let the company build a sawmill somewhere where there is no forest because otherwise we are worried it will log more wood in the healthy forest,” he said.

Contacted by email, Mr. Sitatvila said he intended to turn the wood into unspecified “material” for the domestic market.

“I decided to buy the wood because I think it will be difficult to find wood in the future,” he said.

Mr. Sitatvila said he would work with a “partner from overseas” to process the wood and did not reply to further questions.

Environmentalists who have visited Mondolkiri, however, say most of the timber may already have been smuggled to Vietnam—where much of the country’s illegally logged timber ends up—with the collusion of local authorities.

And though most of the wood was found on the properties of several rubber plantations, the government has yet to lay related charges against anyone, fueling doubts that the crackdown was a genuine attempt to root out the area’s rampant illegal logging trade.

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