Top Provincial Officials Mired in Timber Trafficking Probe

Mondolkiri’s top military, police and military police officials were questioned on Wednesday by a national task force over allegations that local authorities have been colluding with Vietnamese nationals to log illegally in Cambodia, according to an official.

It marks a significant expansion of the investigation the National Committee for Curbing and Combating Natural Resource Crimes is conducting into how six Vietnamese nationals arrested last month—just before crossing back into Vietnam with eight trucks packed with illegally logged timber—were allowed into the country. The police chiefs of two border checkpoints between Cambodia and Vietnam have already been suspended.

On Wednesday, Mondolkiri deputy governor Choeng Sochantha said the task force questioned four other top provincial officials in connection with the case throughout the day: provincial military commander Chhit Meng Sreng; Border Protection Military Unit 103 commander Yin Chanty; provincial military police commander Sak Sarang; and provincial police chief Touch Yun.

“The task force questioned them at the provincial hall, but I don’t know the details because we were not informed,” he said.

National Military Police commander Sao Sokha, who heads the task force, could not be reached for comment. Eng Hy, the National Military Police and task force spokesman, said he was not aware of the questioning.

Mr. Sarang, the military police commander, would neither confirm nor deny that he was questioned, but insisted that he had done nothing wrong.

“I have done nothing wrong that I need to answer for. You can ask the task force yourself,” he said, before hanging up.

The other three officials purportedly questioned on Wednesday could not be reached.

A March 9 letter from National Police commissioner Neth Savoeun to Interior Minister Sar Kheng, posted online by local media last week, implicates a total of 15 officials in the case as either colluding with Vietnamese loggers directly or taking payoffs from those who did, including Mr. Sarang. It says the bribes totaled about $170,000.

Cambodia placed a blanket ban on timber exports to Vietnam in January last year. But Vietnamese customs data obtained by the U.S. NGO Forest Trends indicates that the trade continues to thrive.

In December, Cambodia Daily reporters found a busy timber export market in Kratie province being facilitated by the soldiers who were supposed to be helping to stop it.

sokhean@cambodiadaily.com

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