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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - GAT wins appeal on "illegal" logs

GAT wins appeal on "illegal" logs

The Phnom Penh Appeals Court has ruled that Malaysian-owned Grand Atlantic Timber

(GAT) should go unpunished for illegal logging in the Cardamom Mountains.

The December 18 verdict in the Appeals Court upheld an earlier Koh Kong provincial

court ruling.

The Appeal's Court accepted GAT's argument that the 777 logs the Department of Forestry

and Wildlife (DFW) accused GAT of illegally cutting were just the by-product of company

road construction within its concession.

The court ruling disregarded a GAT manager's written confession that many of the

777 logs had been illegally cut in a neighboring company's concession.

Patrick Alley, Director of the environmental watchdog organization Global Witness,

said they are disappointed with the Appeals Court ruling.

"It demonstrates that industrial logging companies can flout the law, and can

undermine all of the extensive efforts to reform the forest sector by the government

and the donor community, and receive minimal penalties," said Alley.

"While crime pays it will continue to be committed. Despite the extensive information

relating to the 'total systems failure' of the concession system documented in the

ADB concession review, not one single concession company has yet suffered the consequences

of their mismanagement or illegal activities. This has got to change."

On June 3 a Forest Crime Monitoring Unit (FCMU) team visited the GAT concession and

confirmed findings of an aerial survey showing that GAT was illegally logging in

the Samling concession.

The GAT concession manager, Steve Leang Than, admitted to the

team that GAT had collected the 777 logs without permits to cut, collect, or transport

them.

Leang Than acknowledged that GAT had taken logs from the Samling concession's Coupe

Three, and had no permission from Samling to build a forward logging camp there.

He also admitted that GAT had continued to bulldoze roads into the Central Cardamoms

until May 30 - a month after DFW Director Ty Sokhun ordered them to halt construction.

The DFW prepared a case against GAT which was then handed over to provincial forestry

officials. However, the DFW's head office in Phnom Penh did not know the June 20

trial took place in Koh Kong until after it was all over.

A provincial Legislation and Litigation official - with no legal training - presented

the DFW's case in the Koh Kong court. Not only did the official fail to utilize available

video evidence, he omitted any mention of GAT's illegal logging in the Samling timber

company's concession.

The Koh Kong court found GAT guilty of the illegal cutting and transportion of the

777 logs but allowed the company to keep the logs in return for paying the official

Government royalty rate of $54 per cubic meter.

Global Witness believes the logs should have been confiscated and fines of between

two and three times the value of the logs levied against GAT.

Disagreeing with the court decision, the DFW lodged the appeal which was subsequently

lost on Dec 18.

Alley said Global Witness will recommend that the Government appeal the latest decision

to the High Court.

"True reform will only succeed when the logging companies learn that illegal

logging is going to cost them their concessions," he said.

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