Former Ratanakkiri provincial police chief Yoeung Baloung was detained by Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday for his alleged involvement in a massive illegal logging operation in the province’s Virachey National Park, officials said Friday.
Yoeung Baloung was sent to Prey Sar prison after being summoned to the court on Thursday for questioning by the court’s director Chiv Keng, court officials said.
“He is detained,” Chiv Keng confirmed, though he declined further comment.
One court official said on condition of anonymity that Yoeung Baloung is set to stand trial on July 20 for the multi-million-dollar logging scandal in the remote border territory also known as the Dragon’s Tail.
A senior official at Prey Sar confirmed that Yoeung Baloung arrived at the prison on Thursday. “He came alone,” the official said.
The logging operation was discovered during a scheduled flight over the Dragon’s Tail in May 2004, undertaken by World Bank and Ministry of Environment officials. Since March 2000, the park had been the focus of a $4.91-million World Bank-funded project aimed at establishing best management practices for Cambodia’s protected areas.
Yoeung Baloung was transferred from his position in January, along with Ratanakkiri’s former governor Kham Khoeun and sub-military region commander Moeung Samoeun, who were all charged in absentia in February with taking bribes and destruction of the environment. Officials estimate that $15 million worth of logs had been cut by the time the operation was uncovered.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the ministry is waiting for an arrest warrant for Kham Khoeun. “I’ve been informed he went to another country for a medical check-up because he was already removed as governor,” Khieu Sopheak said. Officials have previously said that Kham Khoeun, who has denied any wrongdoing in the case, is in Laos or Vietnam.
Yin Kim Sean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Environment, welcomed Yoeung Baloung’s arrest.
“We clearly see that the case is on its way to justice,” he said. “Even if it has taken time, it is clear now,” he said.