Timber Trader, Twice Overlooked, in Crosshairs

Authorities in Stung Treng province say they are building a case against a well-connected Vietnamese-Cambodian businesswoman after raiding her riverside warehouse last week and finding it full of valuable wood, all of it harvested illegally.

Heng Samneang, better known as “Yeay Proeung,” was linked to separate timber trafficking cases in February and May, but dodged prosecution both times, leading to suspicion of government collusion.

But her luck may be running out. Under the cover of darkness, a team of military police and Forestry Administration officials raided her warehouse on the bank of the Sekong River on Wednesday and reported catching her employees in the process of loading its contents onto three boats and a truck.

“We found many pieces of wood in the warehouse belonging to Yeay Proeung, and experts from the Forestry Administration cantonment are now working to collect evidence against the woman,” Men Kong, a spokesman for the Stung Treng provincial government, said on Monday. He said the resulting report would be sent to the provincial court.

Deputy cantonment chief Chean Yudong said the raid netted 18 cubic meters of illegally logged timber, both luxury-grade Thnong wood and first-grade Sokrom. Asked why the warehouse workers were not arrested, nor Ms. Samneang brought in for questioning, Mr. Yudong referred questions to another deputy cantonment chief, Meas Sophon, who led the operation.

Mr. Sophon could not be reached.

National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said he was not following the case closely and did not know why immediate action was not taken.

A wealthy timber trader believed to be in her 50s, Ms. Samneang could not be reached for comment. She was named twice earlier this year by authorities investigating forestry crimes in Stung Treng.

In February, hundreds of Thnong logs were discovered on and around her property, but Mr. Kong, the provincial spokesman, said at the time that officials did “not dare” conclude the wood belonged to her. Three months later, in May, a group of men who tried to plow through a roadblock with two truckloads of Thnong said they were transporting the timber for Ms. Samneang. Again, no action was taken against her.

Hou Sam Ol, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said last week that Ms. Samneang was paying local officials to turn a blind eye to her business. Forestry and police officials denied the accusation.

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