The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Saturday fined and released 10 workers swept up in a crackdown on illegal sand dredging operations by the Ministry of Mines and Energy last week.
The ministry has been on a campaign to stop illegal sand dredging operations since Prime Minister Hun Sen last month assigned it sole responsibility for regulating dredging.
Dith Tina, a spokesman and secretary of state at the ministry, said authorities arrested a total of 16 people last week—10 in Phnom Penh and six in Kandal province—and confiscated six barges and other boats.
In a closed-door hearing on Saturday at the municipal court, Presiding Judge Mong Mony Sorphea tried the 10 men caught dredging in city waters.
“We decided to fine them 600,000 riel [about $150] each and their dredging boats were confiscated temporarily,” Judge Mony Sorphea said, adding that all 10 men were guilty of dredging without a proper license.
Under Cambodia’s mineral resources law, those caught dredging without a license can be fined and imprisoned for up to five years.
“We released those suspects,” Judge Mony Sorphea said. “We just fined them and there was no need to sentence them [to prison].
“We are still investigating to find the real owners,” the judge added, explaining that the 10 men all claimed to be workers or foremen, and not the owners of their respective dredging operations.
Kandal Provincial Court officials could not be reached for comment. However, Touch Einan, deputy commander of the Kandal provincial military police who aided the ministry during its crackdown last week, said the court charged six suspects with operating without a license on Saturday and ordered them placed in provisional detention at the provincial prison.
Mr. Einan said the six suspects rounded up in Kandal were between the ages of 20 and 40, and that two of them were boat owners while the other four were workers.