Timber Auction Called Off for Lack of Interest

The government has indefinitely postponed what was intended to be the first of several public auctions to sell off 71,000 cubic meters of timber seized by au­thorities since January, according to officials, who cited a lack of interest among potential buyers.

The largest of 11 planned auctions, 26,000 cubic meters with an initial asking price of $4.7 million was scheduled to go under the gavel on Monday morning in Mondolkiri province, where it was found on the property of the Chinese-owned Dai Nam rubber plantation.

But the auction was called off, and six others planned in Mon­dolkiri through Friday may go the same way, according to the provincial government’s chief of administration, Heak Sophan.

“We have canceled the bidding because we have not seen any ap­plications,” he said.

Mr. Sophan said the Ministry of Finance told the provincial government on Monday morning that there had, in fact, been a few ap­plicants, but not enough to go ahead with the auction. He re­ferred additional questions to the ministry.

Soung Mengkea, an undersecretary of state at the ministry as­sisting with the auctions, confirmed that Monday’s auction had been called off, but declined to elaborate.

Other officials belonging to the inter-ministerial committee the government set up to oversee the auctions could not be reached.

The 71,000 cubic meters was seized between mid-January and mid-April by a special task force established by Prime Minister Hun Sen to track down illegal timber stocks in eastern Cambodia.

Enough to fill more than 2,000 standard 6-meter shipping containers, the timber was being offered at a combined initial asking price of $14 million.

In March, the prime minister announced an end to the state’s “public” timber auctions—in breach of the law as they had not been public—and said that all wood seized by the task force would be handed over to the Ed­ucation Ministry, which could use it to build desks, teacher housing or anything else it needed.

But he reversed course in May, announcing that the timber would be auctioned off as the ministry lacked the logistical wherewithal to haul it away. The ministry is still slated to receive any money the auctions raise.

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Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the timber auctions in Mondolkiri province were set to run through July 7.

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