Warehouse Owners Freed After Being Fined for Illegal Wood

The Forestry Administration says it has released the owners of two of the three warehouses in Mondolkiri province where authorities found more than 1,000 pieces of illegally logged, high-grade wood over the weekend after they agreed to pay court-ordered fines.

The four owners were arrested during raids by police and administration officers on the warehouses in Koh Nhek district between Friday and Sunday. More than 1,000 rough-hewn logs of luxury and first-grade wood were seized in the operation.

On Tuesday, Keo Sopheak, deputy chief of the Forestry Administration cantonment covering Mondolkiri, said that the owners, who were two married couples, had since been released because they made no attempt to flee during the raids and because they agreed to pay the necessary fines.

“We will fine them under Article 96 [of the forestry law] as individuals who committed a forestry offense and they will be subject to the fine, which will be three times the market value of the evidence,” he said, referring to the wood.

Mr. Sopheak said the wood totaled more than 20 cubic meters but that the fine had yet to be levied because authorities were still calculating its market value. The species seized can go for hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars per cubic meter.

District police chief Kan Penh said the wood was being held at the Forestry Administration’s headquarters in Mondolkiri.

In an unrelated case, Agriculture Ministry cabinet chief and spokesman Eang Sophalleth weighed in this week on an investigation into a warehouse in Kompong Cham province where more than 20 tons of illegally logged rosewood was found earlier this month.

At the time, Prak Noma, the head of the Forestry Administration’s cantonment in the province, said the owner of the warehouse, Ly Chhun Ou, would not be prosecuted because he was a wealthy businessman with the royally-bestowed title of oknha.

On Monday, Mr. Sophalleth said the title should not spare the man from the law but that he had no authority to intervene.

“I have no right to give orders to the provincial Forestry Administration because I am not the minister,” he said. “I am just a spokesman.”

(Additional reporting by Aun Pheap)

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