Two high-ranking officials from the Apsara Authority and three contractors were yesterday charged with forestry crimes and sent to pre-trial detention for cutting down a century-old rosewood tree at the Angkor Archaeological Park – a move that sparked public outcry.
Two of the suspects – Apsara’s deputy chief for forestry Chhor Thanat and the chief of its internal office for forestry administration, Chev Phal – were additionally charged with being the instigators of the crime under Article 28 of the Criminal Code, said Siem Reap Provincial Court spokesman Riem Chanmuny.
All five were charged with “forest destruction” under Article 98 of the Law on Forestry, Chanmuny explained. The article says the offence is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 100 million riel, or about $24,500.
The three contractors – Khann Nhek, 40, Touch Nethra, 40, and Lay Chheat, 32 – also worked in the authority’s forestry administration office, said Tea Kimsoth, the director of the provincial Forestry Administration office.
Deputy provincial police chief Peung Chandareth, who oversees criminal cases, said that investigating judge Koy Sao decided to send all five suspects to the provincial prison pending their trials.
The arrests of the five, which took place on Wednesday, came after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered Siem Reap Governor Khim Bunsong to apprehend all those involved in cutting down the tree after the local public uproar over it spread to social media.
The Apsara Authority – which oversees the Angkor park – said on Sunday that it cut down the 90-centimetre-thick tree after finding it had been partially sawn into by others, and wanted to prevent it from falling on pedestrians or being seized by illegal loggers who returned for the wood.
However, Nou Puthik, a monitor with local rights group Licadho in Siem Reap, said the arrests of the three contractors had stirred more controversy.
“After [police] arrested the low-level workers, local people became upset because they have sympathy for them,” said Puthik, explaining most believed the high-ranking officials should take full responsibility for the orders they had given their staff.
“The problem was caused by an unclear work process.”