Ministry Seeks Charges Against R’kiri Officials

The Environment Ministry has asked Phnom Penh Municipal Court to bring charges against Ratanakkiri Provincial Governor Kham Khoeun and Provincial Po­lice Chief Yoeung Baloung as part of the ministry’s legal case con­cerning a massive logging op­eration in the province’s Virachey National Park in 2004, the ministry’s lawyer said Thurs­day.

“The ministry has named [Kham Khoeun and Yoeung Ba­loung] in this new complaint,” En­vi­­­r­onment Ministry lawyer Lim Eng Ratanak said Thursday.

“The ministry cannot accept not laying charges because it is a na­­tional issue,” he said in a telephone interview.

The Environment Ministry’s re­quest, made in a letter on Nov 8, comes one month after former Mu­nicipal Court Investigating Judge Kim Sophorn, who origin­al­ly investigated the case, recommended the two officials be investigated.

The Supreme Council of Ma­gis­tracy removed Kim Sop­horn from his position on Oct 14 for al­leged professional wrongdoing over several years.

Kim Sophorn linked Kham Khoeun and Yoeung Baloung to the scandal, in which millions of dollars worth of illegally cut logs were transported from the park to Vietnam, in a report compiled before his removal.

Kham Khoeun has firmly de­nied the allegations, and claims that he is the target of false accusations because he blew the whistle on the logging operation in the remote territory also known as the Dragon’s Tail.

Yoeung Baloung has previously refused to comment and could not be contacted on Thursday.

Municipal Court Chief Prose­cutor Ouk Savouth said that the case is still being investigated by court Director Chiv Keng.

Of the Environment Ministry’s latest request to charge the two men, Ouk Savouth said the ministry would have to wait for the legal process to follow its course.

“This is the same case and the same complaint, so it must be in­serted into the previous case and forwarded to the investigating judge to conduct a further investigation,” Ouk Savouth said of the Environment Ministry’s letter.

Chiv Keng declined comment on the case.

The announcement of the new complaint comes on the heels of the discovery Wednesday of the body of an Environment Ministry official, working on mapping the Virachey park. He was found stuffed into the trunk of his car in Phnom Penh.

Police said on Thursday that they have no motive for the mys­ter­ious and brutal killing of 36-year-old Phay Sopha, an Environ­ment Ministry official who was involved in mapping the park.

Yin Socheat, deputy police chief of Daun Penh district, said sev­eral deep cuts and bruises were found on Phay Sopha’s head after his body was found in  his vehicle at a car park near Phsar Thmei.

Meas Sophal, project director of Virachey National Park, said his colleague had no enemies.

“He was a really good man. He had no dispute with anyone,” he said.

According to Meas Sophal, the victim’s family told him that Phay Sopha had received a phone call from an unidentified friend at his home in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district on Sunday.

Phay Sopha went to meet the unidentified friend and when he didn’t return by Monday, a complaint was filed with the police, Meas Sophal said.

“We are wondering why he was killed,” he added.

Police are continuing to investigate the killing, Yin Socheat said.

  (Additional reporting by Lee Berthiaume)



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