Three men claiming to work for an environmental NGO were arrested by police in Pursat province on Monday for allegedly extorting money from locals by threatening to report them for illegal logging.
Deputy provincial police chief Keo Sokunthea said on Tuesday that authorities were alerted the same day by a Krakor district couple who said they had just paid the trio 100,000 riel, or about $25. The husband and wife, he said, reported that they had been hauling timber to build a house when the three men approached and threatened to tell officials that they were logging illegally unless the couple handed over 200,000 riel.
The couple bargained them down, left and headed straight to the police.
The trio was arrested within hours while driving in their SUV and claimed to work for an NGO, Mr. Sokunthea said. A document reportedly created by the organization, and published online by local media, names the NGO in English as Interception Forestry and Wild Animals Violation.
District police chief Em Ron said that under questioning the men had confessed to extorting not only the couple but six other people they found hauling wood the same day for about $2.50 each.
“We got only one complaint, but after they were arrested they confessed that they had extorted six others,” Mr. Ron said.
“The three men presented themselves as employees of the NGO, but extorted money from the villagers,” Mr. Sokunthea said. “The suspects told people hauling wood that if they didn’t pay them money they would not let them go and take their pictures and report them to the upper levels.”
Mr. Sokunthea and Mr. Ron said they did not know if the NGO was real.
Cambodian NGOs are required to register with the Interior Ministry’s department of associations and political parties. Department director Chhim Kan said on Tuesday that he did not know if the NGO the men claimed to work for was registered and that he could not immediately check his records.
The men were sent to the Pursat Provincial Court for questioning on Tuesday and the court would continue to question them today, Mr. Sokunthea said.