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Arrested timber smugglers escape

Authorities inspect an illegal sawmill in central Phnom Penh on Saturday during raid where nearly 70 pieces of illegal timber were seized. Police
Authorities inspect an illegal sawmill in central Phnom Penh on Saturday during raid where nearly 70 pieces of illegal timber were seized. Police

Arrested timber smugglers escape

Two men caught transporting illegal timber on Saturday have seemingly escaped punishment after Forestry Administration (FA) officers let them go and “rest” at a nearby guesthouse, a rest from which, perhaps unsurprisingly, they did not return.

Initially spotted in Pursat, the smugglers were chased down and intercepted en route to Phnom Penh by FA and anti-economic crime officers in Kampong Chhnang’s Rolea Ba’ier district, according to Chorn Dara, chief of staff of the province’s Anti-Economic Crime Office.

After pulling back a cover concealing their cargo, officers discovered the driver and his passenger were hauling seven huge planks of safrole oil-containing timber and one plank of luxury beng wood, said Dara, who added that a military uniform embroidered with “Colonel Tep Hong” was found in the truck.

However, despite the illegal haul, Dara said the men, after being brought with the seized wood to the provincial Forestry Administration headquarters, were allowed to go to a nearby guesthouse unaccompanied, ostensibly to get some sleep.

“They said that they would come back in the morning, but they did not,” Dara said, also saying it was uncertain yet whether “Tep Hong” was the timber’s owner.

“It is the Forestry Administration responsibility to work on this case,” he said. Reached yesterday, Thorng Vanra Vuthy, provincial FA director, said he was busy at a meeting and could not comment.

Cambodian authorities have ramped up efforts against the illegal timber trade after Prime Minister Hun Sen formed an anti-logging committee early last month.

According to a police report obtained yesterday, officers on Friday night raided a Phnom Penh sawmill in Chamkarmon district’s Phsar Doeum Thkov commune after trailing a car loaded with luxury timber into the site.

At the mill, which belongs to 56-year-old Lim Ingvan Cheng, they uncovered almost 70 logs of luxury wood, including thnong and beng, as well as grade-one wood koki and several chainsaws.

According to the report, Cheng transported, stocked and ran the sawmill illegally. Police and FA officials, who are now sorting through the timber, declined to comment.

Deputy prosecutor Keo Socheat, who’s overseeing the case, said Cheng had been in the process of applying for permission to run the sawmill but had started operating before getting the green light.

Meanwhile, Mondulkiri’s provincial deputy prosecutor, San Sopheak, said five men arrested in Keo Seima district during a raid on a truck carrying luxury timber on Thursday were charged yesterday with stealing evidence in relation to wood taken from the Vietnamese-owned in Binh Phuoc company.

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