Military Denies Timber Trafficking Reports

Military police in Takeo province on Sunday denied news reports that some of their officers had recently allowed a group of timber traffickers to go free after extorting them for a $1,500 bribe on their way to Vietnam.

On Saturday, government-aligned news outlets CEN and Fresh News reported that four military police officers, including a deputy provincial  chief of staff, Sok Lesh, stopped two vans the night before smuggling Thnong wood through Angkor Borei district on the way to Vietnam, in breach of a timber export ban.

CEN and Fresh News reported that their journalists were at the scene and overheard the officers demanding $1,500 to let the vans go.

Contacted on Sunday, provincial governor Lay Vannak said he had ordered the provincial military police chief, La Lay, to open an investigation on Saturday immediately after reading the news reports, but had yet to hear back.

“I have received the information about the case and I already ordered our officials to start an investigation,” he said. “If the case is true, we will take action to punish those

Provincial military police chief Mr. Lay said the investigation was over and declared the accusations baseless.

“I investigated for two days and we did not find Mr. Sok Lesh and his three officers to be involved in taking $1,500 from the timber traders,” he said. “I asked Mr. Sok Lesh and the three other officers, but they did not do what they were accused of.”

As part of the investigation, he added, timber traders in the area also denied ever being extorted by any of the four men.

However, Mr. Lay said he would reopen the investigation if authorities received any fresh complaints against them.

“I have finished the investigation. But we will reopen it if we receive a complaint from anyone and we will arrest them and send them to court,” he said.

He said Mr. Lesh was promoted to deputy chief of staff a few months ago and was currently leading a provincial working group responsible for stopping timber from crossing the border into Vietnam. Mr. Lay said the group had stopped three vans within the past few months and made five

Mr. Lesh could not be reached for comment.

The government imposed a ban on timber exports to Vietnam in January last year. But Vietnamese customs data indicate that tens of millions of dollars worth of timber have continued to cross the

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