Cambodia’s former deputy consul-general to Ho Chi Minh City denied forging a document to help a private company smuggle luxury-grade wood into Vietnam during the first day of his trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday.
Taing Sok Ngy, 38, was arrested at a restaurant in Phnom Penh in June last year for allegedly producing a counterfeit letter allowing a Cambodian firm to export some 300,000 cubic meters of high-value timber. He stands charged with forging and using the document.
Four other Cambodians implicated in the case were not at the hearing, and their absence was not explained.
In his defense, Mr. Sok Ngy said that a representative of the Heng Ly Investment Company, La Orn, delivered to him a letter in November 2013, purportedly from the Commerce Ministry, which gave his firm permission to export 1,000 cubic meters of wood. Mr. Sok Ngy said he emailed the head of the ministry’s legislative department, Mak Osaphea, to verify the letter and was given the green light to send Vietnam’s Commerce Ministry a diplomatic note clearing the sale.
“He said, ‘It is correct, you can approve it, it is no problem,’” Mr. Sok Ngy said. “So I issued a diplomatic note to the Vietnamese.”
“When you received the letter [from Mr. Orn], did you know the letter was genuine?” one of his lawyers, Muong Thunleaphy, asked.
“I knew because it had a red stamp and the correct signature, and I even contacted Mr. Mak Osaphea,” Mr. Sok Ngy replied.
Mr. Osaphea was not in court. But a court clerk read out a statement from the Commerce Ministry official in which he denied Mr. Sok Ngy’s claims. In the statement, he denied receiving a letter from Mr. Sok Ngy to verify the authenticity of the letter from the ministry and that, in any case, he had no authority to do so.
“If the police investigate and find out that what Mr. Taing Sok Ngy said is true, I am willing to face legal action,” he said.
In his own written statement, fellow defendant Heng Ly denied making any attempt to export wood to Vietnam and any association with Mr. Sok Ngy or Mr. Orn, also a defendant.
In the courtroom, deputy prosecutor Kham Sophary brought up six directives from the Council of Ministers approving wood exports to Vietnam by other companies.
Mr. Sophary asked why the border checkpoints designated in those directives were different from the checkpoints mentioned in the subsequent diplomatic notes Mr. Sok Ngy sent to Vietnamese authorities. Mr. Sok Ngy said he altered the checkpoints at the request of the companies so that they could save time and transportation costs by taking shorter routes.
Presiding Judge Veng Hourt said the trial would resume on September 3.