Police Official Charged Over Rosewood

A police official in Kompong Thom province was Thursday formally charged in connection with a valuable haul of illegally logged rosewood abandoned on his property by a trio of timber smugglers on Sunday night, officials said.

Though the official, Yim Phoan, deputy chief of the province’s anti-economic crime police, has been summoned to appear for questioning, he remains a free man.

The wood in question was seized from three cars that were pursued onto Mr. Phoan’s homestead in Prasat Balaing district by a team of police and military police late Sunday night. Many of the 55 logs were marked with the name “Phoan.”

While the three drivers fled on foot, Mr. Phoan’s brother, Yit Sovan, who was housesitting at the time, was arrested and later jailed on charges of logging and smuggling the rosewood, a protected tree species that has been logged to the verge of local extinction.

Mr. Phoan has denied involvement but was on Thursday charged in absentia over his role in the case, according to Investigating Judge Khorn Sakol.

“The prosecutor sent a letter to Samdech Sar Kheng today informing him about the suspect named Yim Phoan, who was charged for involvement in the illegal timber business,” the judge said. “Following court procedure for government officials who are charged, the court must inform ministries and relevant institutions.”

Judge Sakol said the provincial court also issued a summons for Mr. Phoan Thursday ordering him to appear for questioning within the next two weeks.

Mr. Phoan said he had not yet received the summons, but would heed it. “I am not worried about being arrested because I did not do what I am accused of,” he said.

Provincial police chief Chou Sam An said he was convinced that Mr. Phoan was innocent, and had sent a letter to the court saying as much.

“I do not think the court has enough evidence to accuse him,” he said.

“I think the court misunderstands, because the car drivers stopped on Mr. Phoan’s land accidentally,” he added, explaining that he had come to this conclusion through an informal investigation of his own.

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