Two Ministries Clash Over Logging Suit

A Ministry of Agriculture official who provided testimony that led to the scuttling of a $1 million lawsuit by the Environment Ministry against a plantation firm in Koh Kong province was not siding with the company, the Agriculture Ministry said Wednesday.

On Monday, Koh Kong Provin­cial Court Chief Prosecutor Keo Sim dismissed the Environ­ment Ministry’s case against the Green Rich company, which is accused of destroying parts of a protected park, because of testimony provided by the Agriculture Minis­try’s Chy Sok Chenda, deputy di­rector of its planning and statistics office.

“It’s not that [the Agriculture Ministry] supports Green Rich,” said Kith Seng, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s planning department.

Kith Seng said there were “some diverging ideas between the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture” regarding Green Rich’s controversial operation in the Botum Sakor National Park.

The Agriculture Ministry felt Green Rich was living up to its contractual obligations, Kith Seng said.

“We also like to protect the environment,” he said. “But we have to proceed according to the contract.”

Agriculture Minister Chan Sar­un said Wednesday he was not aware that his ministry had sent an official to the court hearing, and referred questions to the Environ­ment Ministry, which he said was responsible for the case.

Delphine Vann Roe, deputy coun­try director of WildAid, which previously co-managed the park, decried the ruling. “It is a shame for the Ministry of En­vironment and the government,” Vann Roe said.

Disagreements between government ministries are not un­common, said Council of Minis­ters Secretary of State Prak Sok­hon.

“Different ministries have different interests,” he said. “The Min­istry of Environment wants to protect the environment. The Min­istry of Agriculture wants to de­velop agriculture. Sometimes de­velopment may affect the environment.”

Normally, the ministries can find common ground, Prak Sok­hon said. If not, Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen will often be asked to make a decision following an in­ter­ministerial meeting. Occa­sion­al­ly the courts are asked to make a decision, he said.

Presiding Judge Cheng Bunly said he ruled in favor of Green Rich “to resume its operations based on the official from the Min­istry of Agriculture and the [let­ter from the] Council for the Deve­lopment of Cambodia.”

In January, Environment Min­ister Mok Mareth sent Hun Sen a letter notifying him of the minis­try’s concerns about Green Rich and a second sister company, Green Elite, and requested permission to investigate and, if possible, launch a lawsuit against the company. “I agree to this proposal,” Hun Sen wrote at the bottom of the letter.

“Please work according to the pro­cedures in order to take back the land and keep it as conserved for­est,” he added.

Following the Environment Ministry’s investigation, lawsuits were brought against Green Rich for breach of trust, and Green Elite was charged with destroying the environment at Botum Sakor.

In 1998, Green Rich, then headed by a Taiwanese national named Paul Yu, was granted permission by the Environment Min­istry to establish a tree plantation on 60,200 hectares of land in Botum Sakor, according to a copy of the contract.

The company planned to plant trees that would be later cut to produce pulp for paper.

However, according to documents presented by Environment Ministry law­yer Ket Khy, Paul Yu established a second company called Green Elite, which then contracted with local companies in Koh Kong to illegally cut protected trees.

Lawyer Ket Khy said Tuesday that documents show that Paul Yu offered his local contractors $6.80 per ton for wood chips, which were being shipped to China.

“They did grow some trees but they also cut,” Ket Khy said.

Kar Savuth, who has represented the government in previous court cases, represented Green Rich on Monday.

Ket Khy said that Chy Sok Chenda’s testimony and the letter from the CDC, which apparently supported Green Rich and al­leged that foreign investors could be scared off if the government started charging them with crimes, torpedoed the lawsuit.

“The Ministry of Agriculture and the CDC don’t know the truth and never did any study,” Ket Khy said.

“They only based [their support for Green Rich] on the in­vestment contract.”

 

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.