Authorities in Stung Treng province discovered and confiscated a haul of luxury wood that was being transported in three trucks on Sunday night from the protected Virachey National Park, officials said Tuesday.
Provincial deputy police chief Yorn Din said the trucks were stopped and searched as they attempted to pass through Stung Treng City because police suspected that they were carrying more wood than legally permitted.
Mr. Din explained that while the company that owned the trucks, which he declined to name, had a permit to transport the luxury Thnong timber, the three-truck load seemed excessive.
“We stopped the truck so that we could measure the wood inside because we believe that the trucks are loaded beyond the limitations of the license that the company has, as stated in their permission letter,” he said.
The trucks and their cargo were sent to the provincial police office on Monday for further inspection, he added, declining to provide further details.
He referred enquiries to Chhoeun Tola, provincial chief of the Stung Treng forestry administration, who could not be reached Tuesday.
Hou Sam Ol, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that investigations by his team had found that the timber had previously been seized by forestry administration officials in Stung Treng province.
It was then sold on to a company in Kandal province’s Takhmao City, he said, where it was being transported when police again intercepted it.
“We investigated and found that Virachey National Park officials seized the wood from illegal loggers there and they have been selling seized wood to private companies to collect money for their own use,” Mr. Sam Ol said, adding that the company’s permitted haul is 53-cubic-meters.
Mr. Sam Ol did not know the name of the company that had purchased the wood.
Repeated calls to multiple officials in the provincial and national forestry administration went unanswered Tuesday.
Virachey National Park stretches west from the northeastern tip of Ratanakkiri province on the border with Vietnam into Stung Treng province.
Although the 330,000-hectare forest is ostensibly protected, illegal loggers ruthlessly cut down its rosewood trees to sell the luxury wood, which is fashioned into furniture and sold at exorbitant prices.
In the provinces, one cubic meter of Thnong can fetch up to $800 but prices are even higher in Phnom Penh and Vietnam.
Rights groups such as Adhoc have long charged that cooperation between authorities and illegal loggers thwarts attempts to preserve the forest.