Kompong Thom prosecutors yesterday released seven men who were running an illegal checkpoint racket after they signed a contract agreeing to cease operations.
The seven men—four military police officers, a journalist, an NGO worker and a district environment official—were arrested on Wednesday in a sting operation on their checkpoint along National Road 62 in Kompong Svay district.
Provincial deputy prosecutor Say Nora said Thursday that police remain on the hunt for 10 associates of the seven released men. He declined to identify the 10 suspects, naming them only as officials.
“We arrested the journalists because they are always demanding money from vehicles carrying luxury wood by threatening them with reports to police or prosecutors if they not provide money,” Mr. Nora added. “I’m a deputy prosecutor but I drive an old car, but those journalists they drove luxury cars. Where does their money come from?”
Mr. Nora said journalists are “always” extorting illegal loggers, threatening them with newspaper articles revealing their activity.
Nonetheless, Mr. Nora said the journalists and the rest of the group were given warnings and released because they were first-time offenders and agreed to shut down the illegal checkpoint.
Chea Poeun, chief of provincial serious crime bureau, said the investigation leading up to Wednesday’s sting operation took two months.
“Before we arrested them we also spoke to drivers and passengers of the vehicles,” Mr. Poeun said. “Those people told us that the suspects take 5,000 riel [about $1.25] to 10,000 riel [about $2.50] in each illegal checkpoint.”
Mr. Poeun added his investigation is ongoing and that he hopes to catch the remaining 10 associates soon.
Nhem Sarat, provincial monitor of rights group Adhoc, criticized the work of police and prosecutors thus far, labeling it as ineffective.
“If they find those officials [the outstanding 10 men] authorities should implement the law and not just only arrest and release them back without penalties,” Mr. Sarat said. “There’s too many cases in the province where officials use their position to set up illegal checkpoints.”