Two low-ranking Ratanakkiri province police officers were sent to prison on Tuesday after being charged with bribery and destruction of the environment over a massive illegal logging operation in the province’s Virachey National Park in 2004, officials said.
The two were charged by Phnom Penh Municipal Court just one day after three senior officials, dogged in recent months by accusations of involvement in the multi-million dollar logging scandal, were removed from their positions.
Reporters were unable to enter the court to hear the charges against Proek Kateap, chief of the O’Yeul border police post, and Nhay Lumbak, deputy chief of the Dragon’s Tail border police post. The two were later driven straight from the fenced-off court compound to Prey Sar prison.
Sam Vannak, Ratanakkiri provincial penal police chief, who escorted the pair to court, said the decision to detain them was made by Investigating Judge Chiv Keng.
“I just brought them to court. I don’t know much about what happened here,” Sam Vannak said. “The court charged and detained them,” he said.
Two other police officers, Plang Thanh and Trim Bun, both deputy chiefs of the O’Yeul border police post, were questioned along with Proek Kateap and Nhay Lumbak, but were not charged, court officials said.
Chiv Keng did not answer repeated phone calls.
On Monday, Ratanakkiri Provincial Governor Kham Khoeun, Provincial Police Chief Yoeung Baloung and Moeung Samoeun, commander of the Ratanakkiri military sub-region, were all removed from their positions.
Authorities did not give an official reason for their removal, though the three were questioned in court in December over the 2004 logging operation, which was discovered during a monitoring flight over Virachey National Park on May 12, 2004, that included World Bank and Environment Ministry officials.
Ray Rai, who replaced Yoeung Baloung as the province’s police chief, said Proek Kateap and Nhay Lumak left the provincial capital of Banlung on Monday after the court summoned them for questioning.
The two men join former park ranger Yim Sath and In Ratha, former chief of the Dragon’s Tail border police post, as the only men to have been charged and detained over the scandal.
Arrest warrants have been issued for the national park’s former director, Koy Sokha, former chief of border police Unit 203 Phon Sophat and his two deputies, Keo Louna and Liem Say. All four remain at large.
Several senior provincial police officials said they were uncertain of the whereabouts of the four men.
“I do not know where they are hiding but they are not in the province,” said Ratanakkiri’s Deputy Provincial Police Chief Phen Dina. “If they were here we would arrest them because the warrants are in our hands.”
Kham Khoeun did not answer repeated phone calls, while Yoeung Baloung and Moeung Samoeun could not be contacted.