A Ratanakkiri provincial prosecutor said Wednesday that he has turned down a former judge’s recommendation to charge the head of the Tai Seng Rubber Co with allegedly buying stolen resin from rubber workers.
Prosecutor Mey Sokhan said that former provincial court deputy director Norng Sok requested a conspiracy charge against Tai Seng Director-General Ly Hong Sin early this year.
The Supreme Council of Magistracy forced Norng Sok to retire from his position in February for unspecified reasons related to his “judgement on suspects.”
Mey Sokhan said that he decided not to charge Ly Hong Sin, sending the former judge’s recommendation to the Appeals Court in Phnom Penh instead. He said he could not recall exactly when he sent the request to the Appeals Court, adding that he had not yet received a response from the court.
“I have seen a letter from Judge Norng Sok requesting me to charge [Ly Hong Sin], but I didn’t charge and appealed,” he said.
This refusal to charge Ly Hong Sin is the latest development in a lengthy battle by the plantation operators to control the price of rubber resin collected by tappers on the state-owned, but privately managed, plantation known as Solidarity Group 14.
In December, eight rubber workers were charged with theft after being accused by Group 14 chiefs Chhe Chan and Bun Than of selling resin directly to the Tai Seng company. Tai Seng was offering workers 70 percent of the resin’s market value, a significant amount more than the 50 percent of market value offered by the solidarity group chiefs. The eight men fled the plantation—two of them were subsequently arrested and have been held in jail since Dec 31.
Contacted by phone Wednesday, Norng Sok confirmed that he had recommended charging Ly Hong Sin in January or February after the two arrested suspects had confessed that the rubber tycoon was behind the alleged thefts.
“[Tai Seng Rubber Co] was inciting them to reap the benefits for the company,” Norng Sok said. “I asked the prosecutor to charge, but he didn’t do it—he appealed.”
“According to the law, if a judge requests a charge, the prosecutor must charge,” he added.
Ly Hong Sin said he was aware of the former judge’s recommendation, calling it “childish.” He added that Tai Seng—which has exclusive purchase rights to rubber produced on the Group 14 plantation—has the right to buy from the workers directly.
He added that the workers should not have to sell the rubber to him through the chiefs Chhe Chan and Bun Than, accusing them of “oppressing the workers.” The group chiefs pocket 20 percent of the resin sale price by acting as middlemen between Tai Seng and the plantation tappers.
“I am not doing anything illegal, workers come to sell to me, I must buy,” Ly Hong Sin added.
Chhe Chan could not be reached for comment, though in previous interviews he has defended his entitlement as a plantation chief.