FOUR officials at the Koh Kong Forestry Administration Cantonment who were charged in April in connection with an illegal logging ring have been released from custody, though provincial court officials said yesterday that their case remained under investigation.
Chhin Long, the chief clerk for the prosecution at the provincial court, said he had seen a document indicating that the release of the men was ordered by Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun and approved by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has issued several calls this year for a crackdown on illegal logging.
“I briefly saw a letter from Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun that was signed by the prime minister requesting the release of the four forestry officials,” he said.
“I don’t know more details on the reasons for their release. I just handed the letter to the judge for consideration.”
I don’t know more details for their release. I just handed the letter to the judge for consideration.
The officials – Uk Kimsan, Norng Chanda, Kim Nara and Khieng Sochivoan – were arrested in April following an investigation conducted by Koh Kong provincial court into an illegal logging ring operating out of Thmor Bang district, Meas Sitha, deputy director of the provincial cantonment, said yesterday.
Meas Sitha said all four had been released late last month. “I’m only aware that the four officials had been released on June 24. I don’t have any other details,” he said.
Huon Mony, the director of the provincial court, said their case is part of an “ongoing investigation into a massive forestry crime”.
In the April raid that led to their arrest, officials confiscated hundreds of cubic metres of luxury wood and seven trucks, all of which had been handed over to the cantonment for use as evidence later, he said.
Both he and Meas Sithy said they could not remember the specific charges that were brought against the four men, but confirmed that they initially were ordered to serve pre-trial detention.
Investigating judge Bun Thy said yesterday that the case was still under investigation.
As part of the same investigation, two other forestry officials – a former maritime inspector and a current Foretry Department staff member in Preah Sihanouk province – were summoned to the court in June, as were two officials from a conservation NGO. Bun Thy said at the time that all four were summoned “under suspicion of being behind illegal logging and conspiring with businessmen”, but he declined to elaborate.
Eang Sophalleth, a spokesman for Hun Sen, said yesterday that he was not aware of the Koh Kong case and declined to comment. Chan Sarun, a former director of the Forestry Administration, could not be reached for comment, nor could the administration’s director, Chheng Kim Sun.
The crackdown on illegal logging, first announced in January, has led to few arrests and prosecutions, prompting some rights groups and conservation activists to question that it will lead to a reduction in illegal logging in the long term.
At around the same time as the June Koh Kong summonses, officials at Ratanakkiri provincial court said they were launching an investigation into why no complaints had been filed in connection with 45 raids carried out in the province since the crackdown was announced.