Timber trafficker Heng Samneang received a two-year prison sentence for illegal logging from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday, although no mention was made of a second charge she faced for obstructing public officials.
Ms. Samneang, better known as Yeay Proeung—or Grandma Proeung—was one of Stung Treng province’s better-known timber traffickers among locals until her arrest in Stung Treng City on October 13 while attempting to retrieve some logs from a government compound.
“The court sentences Ms. Heng Samneang to two years in prison and fines her 50 million riel for collecting forest products without a permit,” Presiding Judge Pich Vithiathor announced on Tuesday. He said a van and car also would be seized as state property. The fine amounts to about $12,500.
The judge offered no explanation for the length of the prison sentence, which could have gone as high as five years, and made no mention of the second charge. Nor did he explain why Ms. Samneang, 53, who denied the charges during her trial earlier this month, was not present for the verdict announcement. With time served, she has about 16 months of prison time left.
Her lawyer, who attended the hearing, refused to provide his name to a reporter and declined to answer any questions.
Contacted later in the day, the judge declined to comment on the case and referred all questions to court spokesman Suos Vithyarandy.
The spokesman said Ms. Samneang could not attend the verdict announcement because of high blood pressure. He said he did not know why there was no mention of the obstruction charge.
Pen Bonnar, senior investigator for land rights and natural resources for the NGO Adhoc, said Ms. Samneang was known to have operated a timber trafficking ring for years. He believed the sentence was too light.
“She has been involved in corruption, because she has bribed authorities and also some journalists,” he said. “The court should open an investigation into the corruption because it is very important and the corruption has caused deforestation in Stung Treng province.”
Ms. Samneang was arrested in October after showing up at a Forestry Administration office in Stung Treng City with a group of stick-wielding men. According to military police, who were guarding the office, she and the men tried but failed to retrieve a pile of illegally logged wood that had been found the day before on a nearby rubber plantation.
She was quickly transferred to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over concerns of her influence in Stung Treng and was charged with harvesting forest products without a permit and obstructing public officials.
In the weeks before her arrest, Ms. Samneang gained national notoriety when video footage emerged of her criticizing journalists working in Stung Treng for reporting her timber trafficking to authorities even after taking bribes from her to keep quiet.
“All journalists are witnesses to my business because they receive money from me,” she is heard telling a group of reporters.
At the trial, Ms. Samneang claimed that she had received a telephone call the night before her arrest from a military police officer, whom she knew only as Ath, with an offer to come to the Forestry Administration office late that night to buy some timber and was abruptly arrested upon her arrival.