Three Arrested for Smuggling Wood; 4th Escapes

The Kompong Thom Provincial Court on Tuesday charged three men over the illegal transport of rare rosewood after police seized two cars they allegedly used to transport the illicit haul earlier that day, while a fourth suspect escaped while in the custody of the Forestry Administration, police and court officials said Wednesday.

Deputy provincial police chief Keo Sophal said the four suspects had driven the timber-laden vehicles from Preah Vihear province to the north.

“After getting a tip from our undercover police, we deployed our officers and stopped the cars,” he said, adding that 28 pieces of rosewood were found inside the vehicles, one of which had military license plates.

Mr. Sophal said one of the suspects, Chan Tha, had also been wearing a military uniform, but that he could not confirm whether he was a real soldier.

Mr. Sophal said all four men were sent to the Forestry Administration’s Stong district office for questioning following their arrest, but that Soep Sopheap, the only woman in the group, managed to escape while officials were busy interrogating the three men.

Mr. Sophal said it was the responsibility of the Forestry Administration to find the woman.

“The suspect was in their hands, so it is up to them,” he said. “If it were my police who made this kind of mistake, they would blame us.”

Tong Yi, head of the Forestry Administration in the district, could not be reached Wednesday.

Kompong Thom Provincial Court deputy prosecutor Kuch Kimlong confirmed that only three of the four suspects had been sent to the court Tuesday, adding that the case has already been forwarded to an investigating judge.

Court prosecutor Ith Sothea said Mr. Tha was charged with illegally transporting wood and illegally collecting forest products, and that the other two men were charged as accessories to the crimes. The trio was sent to pretrial detention at the provincial prison the same day, Mr. Sothea said.

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