Authorities in Ratanakkiri province said they confiscated a vanful of illegal luxury-grade timber on Wednesday after a van driver crashed into a motorbike on his way to the Vietnamese border with the wood, but let the driver go because he was injured.
Khao Sophin, the police chief of Bakeo district’s Ting Chak commune, said Thursday that the van full of wood was headed along National Road 78 toward the international border crossing in O’Yadaw district when it rear-ended a motorbike at about 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
“The van hit the motorbike from behind, then it ran off the road and hit a tree,” Mr. Sophin said. “One of the three people on the motorbike was seriously injured with a broken leg, and they are now receiving medical treatment at the provincial hospital.”
“We arrested the van’s driver briefly, but because he was seriously injured in the forehead and chest we handed him over to his family so they could take him to get medical treatment,” he said.
Mr. Sophin said the driver was heading toward the Vietnamese border, where he planned to sell the wood. The police chief said the van, which was also seized, was packed with about 100 pieces of luxury-grade Thnong timber, an increasingly rare species that can fetch hundreds of dollars per cubic meter.
He said the case had been passed on to district authorities, while the confiscated haul was being held at the commune police station.
Deputy district police chief Rous Vathana said he received the accident report and would call the driver in to arrange compensation for the victims in order to spare him from being prosecuted for his part in the crash. He said he could not remember the name of the driver.
As for the confiscated wood, the deputy said he had no intention of fining the driver or tracking down the source of the timber because he had been threatened with a demotion for trying to do so in the past.
“I had stopped a van transporting luxury wood a few months ago, but a group of men came to me and told me the wood belonged to their boss. Then they ordered me to release the driver and let the van go, otherwise their boss would remove the rank from my shoulder,” Mr. Vathana said.
He declined to identify the men or their boss.
“I am not concerned about taking action against vehicles transporting wood since I was threatened with demotion because I am a small police officer and have no power to stop the illegal transport of wood because the wood dealers are protected by powerful provincial people.”
However, the head of the Forestry Administration’s Ratanakkiri cantonment, Vong Sokserey, said he knew about Wednesday’s seizure and would pursue the driver for the requisite fine, which is based on the value of the confiscated timber.
“We have given the van’s driver one month to pay the fine,” he said. “In case the offender does not come to pay the fine, we will send the case to the court.”
When asked about Mr. Vathana’s claims that provincial officials are involved in the area’s illegal logging trade, Mr. Sokserey hung up the phone.