Soldiers Charged With Abetting Timber Smugglers in Preah Vihear

Four soldiers accused of trying to help smugglers move a cache of prized and protected Siamese rosewood through Preah Vihear province were charged on Monday in the provincial court, local officials said on Tuesday.

Deputy prosecutor Sreng Sothea said the soldiers were charged with allowing forest exploitation, while the two smugglers were charged with harvesting forest products without a permit.

“The four soldiers told the court that they received $10 each from the timber traders to lead the way and negotiate with authorities to transport the rosewood,” Mr. Sothea said. “They are now in prison.”

He said the two smugglers told the court that they had brought the wood into Cambodia from Thailand across the An Ses border checkpoint and were taking it to a local timber trader named Yeay Yan, who planned on moving some of it into Vietnam.

“I have issued a warrant for the investigating judge to collect information about Yeay Yan, and the court will arrest her if she is found to be involved with the six jailed suspects,” he said, adding that the court did not yet know the soldiers’ ranks or units.

Conservation groups have reported that wild rosewood stocks in Cambodia have been nearly wiped out by illegal loggers, who can sell the wood abroad for tens of thousands of dollars per square meter. Prime Minister Hun Sen banned the logging, transportation and export of the species in 2013.

Yuth Ponloeu, the investigating judge handling the case, declined to speak with a reporter over the telephone.

Provincial military police chief Sao Sokun said his officers stopped the group at a checkpoint on Friday and found 83 pieces of rosewood inside the smugglers’ Toyota Camry.

He said they also found military identity cards on three of the four soldiers with the smugglers, but declined to say in which units they served before hanging up.

The charges against the six, leveled under the Forestry Law, carry a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of up to 100 million riel, or about $25,000.

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