The government is continuing its investigation into the 3,000 cubic meters of luxury wood that was reportedly netted during a recent national crackdown on illegal logging, Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun said yesterday. However, a rights worker and a conservationist said they were skeptical that any high-ranking perpetrators would be brought to court.
“We confiscated around 3,000 cubic meters, most of which are luxury wood, and we have imprisoned some people,” Mr Sarun said, adding that he had not been informed by his officials about the total number of suspects apprehended in the operations.
“We are investigating their cases,” he said, adding that several government officials and businessmen had been implicated in the operations. Mr Sarun said he could not give names of any suspects as the Forestry Administration “lets the courts investigate them.”
On Wednesday, four Kompong Cham provincial forestry administration officials were removed from their positions for alleged misconduct, and one Pursat province forestry official was being detained in relation to alleged forestry crimes.
Last week 500 cubic meters of illegal luxury wood was discovered on properties belonging to CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin, Tourism Ministry Secretary of State Kor Sumsaroeut, businessman Ang Try, and Sok Kong, owner of the Sokimex filling stations and the Sokha hotels chain. But authorities have so far stopped short of accusing the officials and businessmen of any wrongdoing and said some of the wood may not be illicit.
Last week one alleged timber smuggling ringleader, Duch Savoeun, 55, was arrested in Oddar Meanchey province.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said he had observed similar nationwide crackdowns on illegal logging in the last 15 years, which he said all followed a familiar pattern of large-scale wood seizures and few arrests.
Mr Virak said he doubted that any high-profile perpetrators behind the logging schemes would be brought to justice.
“Within the last 15 years there have been only a few punishments of high-ranking officers [for illegal logging],” Mr Virak said, adding, the government operations were likely intended to gain positive attention from the public and international donors.
Seng Bunra, country director of Conservation International, said the government’s commitment would become clear in the next few weeks.
“If there are no arrests [of high ranking officers] in the next two weeks, it means the government action is targeting ordinary people only,” he said, adding that if investigations were under way against high-ranking officials, this would take time.