Authorities in Kratie province moved to stop a convoy of trucks belonging to tycoon Try Pheap overloaded with first-grade timber on Sunday, but were only able to pull over five of the vehicles, which were found to be carrying nearly double the amount of cargo allowed by law, an official said Tuesday.
Srey Sakhon, director of the provincial transport department, said his officials heard that 16 Try Pheap Group trucks were traveling south from Stung Treng City to Phnom Penh via National Road 7 and quickly set up a weigh station on the highway in Kratie’s Sambor district. But only five trucks arrived at the checkpoint.
“We stopped the trucks and weighed them and found that each truck was 30 tons overloaded,” he said. “We ordered the company’s representatives to transfer the overloaded goods to empty trucks, and we allowed them to leave on the same day after they paid 60 million riel [about $15,000].”
Mr. Sakhon said that 11 other Try Pheap trucks managed to evade authorities because they were tipped off about the weigh station ahead and took a detour on a small dirt road.
An investigation by U.K.-based environmental watchdog Global Witness last year found that Mr. Pheap—who has the exclusive rights to all illegally felled timber confiscated by authorities anywhere in the country—was at the center of a massive illicit logging operation pushing Cambodia’s protected tree species to the verge of extinction. Over the course of a month, the group’s researchers witnessed at least 30 shipping containers belonging to Mr. Pheap’s company being trucked into the Sihanoukville port every day.
Heng Pearak, coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Kratie, said the stretch of National Road 7 between O’Pong Moan, an area just to the south of Stung Treng City, and Kratie City was being constantly damaged by Mr. Pheap’s oft-overladen trucks.
“We have seen the road from O’Pong Moan to the [Kratie] provincial town destroyed after the Try Pheap company received a license to transport wood from the provinces to Phnom Penh,” he said.
Mr. Pearak said the section of highway was repaved in 2012 but had to be paved again in 2014 due to destruction inflicted by the trucks in the intervening years.
“I think the road will be destroyed [again] soon if the provincial public works and transport department does not take strict action against the overloaded [trucks] of the Try Pheap company,” he said.
Som Phany, head of the Try Pheap Group’s administration office in Phnom Penh, declined to comment.