The manager of a Vietnamese rubber plantation in Mondolkiri province accused of illegally logging in collusion with local military police denied the claims Tuesday but admitted to calling on police to quell protests.
According to authorities, a group of armed Keo Seima district military police officers on Saturday forced local anti-economic crime police to give up four trucks they had stopped—loaded with illegally logged wood—and free their drivers. They said the military police left the logs behind in order to make a fast getaway and that before leaving, the drivers claimed they had been transporting the wood for district military police commander Sak Saron.
A police report stated that the 56 first-grade Sokrom logs were headed for the Binh Phuoc Kratie Rubber 1 plantation, also in Mondolkiri, and that the military police who made off with the trucks and drivers had been moonlighting for the company as security guards.
On Tuesday, Binh Phuoc manager Cheng Sovichet denied any involvement in the ordeal.
“My company is not involved in illegal logging; we are just investing in a rubber plantation,” he said.
Mr. Sovichet also denied having any military police on payroll.
“We have not hired police or military police from Keo Seima district. We just call them for help because we need them to intervene when we have problems sometimes,” he said, citing employee protests as an example.
The police report identified businessman Soeun Som Ol as a representative of the company and said that he had gone to count the seized logs at the local Forestry Administration office.
Mr. Sovichet denied that Mr. Som Ol worked for the company. He said the company did, however, have a deal with the businessman that lets him temporarily store logs on the plantation as part of his own timber trading. The manager said Mr. Som Ol had been transferred the rights to log in the area, which is inside the Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, from another company, Duong Srouch, which received the rights from the Ministry of Agriculture.
Mith Chantha, director of the ministry’s planning department, said the ministry had indeed given Duong Srouch permission to log, but only inside the boundaries of the Binh Phuoc plantation.
“When Binh Phuoc 1 wants to clear 500 hectares of its ELC [economic land concession] for its rubber plantation, Duong Srouch makes a request to the Ministry of Agriculture asking to cut down the trees. If the ministry agrees to the request, the company can cut down the trees and pay a tax to the state,” he said. “But Duong Srouch and Binh Phuoc 1 are cutting down trees only inside the ELC.”
Mr. Chantha said he did not know of any deal between Duong Srouch and Mr. Som Ol and had not seen any recent reports about the alleged illegal logging in the area.
Roeun Sophat, head of the Forestry Administration’s Keo Seima division, who is leading the investigation into Saturday’s incident, said the probe was ongoing.
“I need to talk with police before going to investigate in the forest because they saw the event firsthand,” he said, declining to comment further.