Logging Claim Is False, Says R’kiri Governor

Ratanakkiri’s provincial Gover­nor Kham Khoeun has denied al­legations contained in a Phnom Penh Municipal Court document linking him to a massive illegal logging operation in Ratanakkiri’s Virachey National Park.

Kham Khoeun said on Wed­nes­­day that he was the target of false accusations because he had blown the whistle on the multi-million-dollar logging scandal in the remote border territory known as the Dragon’s Tail.

“It is not true at all,” Kham Khoeun said by telephone from Banlung, Ratanakkiri’s provincial capital, on Wednesday.

“This is an accusation from bad men targeting me,” he said.

“They hate me because I am the one who reported this case to the national level. I am the one who discovered this case,” he added.

The allegations against Kham Khoeun, contained in documentation compiled by former municipal court Investigating Judge Kim Sophorn, allegedly stem from in­ter­views with Cambodian border police officials and confessions by people allegedly involved in the op­eration.

The court document, dated Oct 7 and obtained Wednesday, also states that Kim Sophorn investigated at least one other senior Ratanakkiri official.

Kim Sophorn was officially removed from his position at the mun­icipal court by the Supreme Council of Magistracy on Oct 14. He was alleged to have altered charges, as far back as 2001, against suspects without following the proper procedures.

Commenting on his Ratanak­kiri investigation, Kim Sophorn said: “I really made a request to the chief prosecutor [Ouk Sa­vouth] to make an order for in­ves­tigation, which would open the way for laying charges against them,” referring to the of­fi­cials named in his report.

Ouk Savouth refused to comment on the case Thursday.

Two municipal court clerks said this week that Ouk Savouth felt there was not enough evidence to implicate Kham Khoeun and a second senior official.

The municipal court’s new director, Chiv Keng, is now responsible for further investigating the case, they said.

Chiv Keng could not be contacted on Wednesday.

The illegal logging operation was discovered during a scheduled monitoring flight over the Dragon’s Tail on May 12, 2004, which included World Bank and Environment Ministry officials.

Since March 2000, the park has been the home of a $4.91-million World Bank-funded project aimed at establishing best management practices for Cambo­dia’s protected areas.

Following the discovery, pro­vincial police determined that a well-organized group of Viet­nam­ese loggers crossed into the Dra­gon’s Tail from Laos many times earlier that year with Cam­bo­dian border police approval and cut thousands of trees.

Police reported that the Viet­nam­ese operation then moved the logs back to Vietnam through Laos, eventually taking 500 truckloads of trees out of the country.

A separate report from Kim Sophorn, dated Sept 22, estimates that $15 million worth of wood was cut and taken out of the country by a Vietnamese company that he names in his report.

A case relating to the operation was originally filed with the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court last November, but court officials there said in September that they were unable to act because un­named high-ranking officials were involved.

The Phnom Penh court took over in July and charged Koy Sokha, the former director of the Virachey park, former park ranger Yim Sat, Border Police Unit 203 Commander Phon Sop­hat and his two deputies, Keo Louna and Liam Say, with taking bribes and destruction of the environment in­ connection with the case.

Only one of the suspects, ranger Yim Sat, has been arrested and is currently in pre-trial detention. Arrest warrants have been issued for the remaining of­fi­cials, but none have yet been ap­prehended.

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vat­hana said Thursday that he has told Environment Minister Mok Mar­eth that the courts and judici­ary will cooperate in prosecuting anyone involved in the case.

(Additional reporting by Lee Berthiaume)

 

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