Judge Investigates Logging Case in Dragon’s Tail

A Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge investigating three bor­der po­lice officers and two former Vi­rac­hey National Park em­ployees implicated in a massive il­legal logging operation visited the Ratan­a­k­kiri province protected area to collect evidence Wed­nes­­­­day, officials said.

Municipal Court Investigating Judge Kim Sophorn said there were hundreds of felled logs lying around the site, which is located in the territory otherwise known as the Dragon’s Tail.

“We saw a red dirt road that was built to transport the trees to Viet­nam through Laos and we also saw the shelters where they stored the logs,” the judge said by telephone Wednesday night.

Phon Sophat, commander of Bor­­­der Police Unit 203, and his de­puty commanders, Keo Louna and Lim Say, were charged in July with taking bribes, destroying the forest and illegal transportation of logs for allegedly helping Viet­na­mese na­tionals log illegally in the park.

Also charged were Koy Sokha, for­mer director of Virachey Na­tion­al Park, and former park ranger Yim Sath.

Kim Sophorn said he has summoned the five accused and nu­mer­ous additional witnesses to court, though only Yim Sath has ap­peared and is being detained.

Police have said they do not know the whereabouts of the ot­her sus­pects.

The case was originally refer­red to Ratanakkiri Provincial Court in Nov­ember but moved to Phnom Penh after the provincial court fail­ed to take action, officials have said.

Norng Sok, deputy director of Ratanakkiri Provincial Court, said the court did not act because the logging operation involved high-ranking officials.

“Even though the court is independent, we don’t have power,” he said.

Provincial Governor Kham Khoeun could not be reached for com­ment.

According to a report from the Rat­­anakkiri provincial police to National Police Chief Hok Lundy dated July 16, 2004, Vietnamese na­tionals crossed the Cambodia-Laos border several times earlier that year with border police ap­pro­val.

The Vietnamese cut trees and transported them back, eventually taking 500 truckloads of trees out of the country, the report states.


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