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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Logger presses charges against Global Witness

Logger presses charges against Global Witness

Everbright's logs rest at Romoul village, Kratie Province.

A China-based logging concessionaire being investigated for illegal logging has filed

a criminal trespassing complaint against staff of the Department of Forestry and

Wildlife (DFW), and the environmental monitoring organization, Global Witness (GW).

Everbright CIG Wood Company Ltd. filed the criminal complaint on Jan 15 in the wake

of legally-mandated inspections of Everbright's mill in Kandal Province by DFW and

GW investigators.

GW spokesperson Jon Buckrell said Everbright is logging illegally both in its Kratie

concession and in its neighboring Pheapimex concession. And investigators have found

significant quantities of unmarked illegal logs in Everbright's Mekong rest area

and at its plywood factory outside Phnom Penh.

"Everbright is stealing these logs from the Cambodian people and defrauding

the government of much needed revenue. The government cannot afford to tolerate such

systematic abuse and should cancel Everbright's concession," said Buckrell.

The inspection of the mill was triggered by a January 3 GW surveillance flight over

Everbright's concession. Inspectors saw considerable illegal logging taking place

in the company's Coupe Two - an area in which logging is currently prohibited.

GW photographed and noted many log stockpiles, as well as large machinery loading

timber onto trucks within Coupe Two. Precise locations of this activity were established

by GPS.

GW investigators followed up that surveillance flight by arriving at Everbright's

Kandal Province mill on January 12 with a letter, signed by the Secretary of State

for the Council of Ministers, Sum Manith, allowing GW to inspect the concession and


The letter asks all concession directors, military commanders, and customs officials

to "collaborate with, facilitate and ensure Global Witness representatives receive

open access to all forest land areas including forest concessions, protected areas,

land concession areas and other forest lands; and to related roads, storage, transport

and export facilities..."

Everbright staff initially ignored the letter and denied investigators access to

the mill.

"We showed Everbright security staff our letters of authorization from the Government

but they refused to let us in," said Buckrell.

When DFW was informed that Everbright staff were preventing an inspection, a four-man

team from the DFW's Litigation and Legislation Office (LLO) was dispatched to the

mill with a mission letter signed by DFW's Director General Ty Sokhun.

After consultation with the DFW officials, mill staff allowed the inspection to begin,

bringing to an end the six-hour standoff.

"A preliminary inspection by DFW and Global Witness showed that a high proportion

of the logs were unmarked and therefore illegal," said Buckrell. An estimated

650 logs were in the yard waiting processing.

Any log at a mill without a stamp has been unrecorded and illegally transported and

the Government will not receive a royalty payment for that log.

Before returning to Phnom Penh on night of January 12, the DFW's LLO team told Everbright

mill managers that the inspected logs should be secured as evidence.

'"DFW told the company not to move the timber but the following day the stockpile

had disappeared and logs outside the mill, previously unmarked, had been illegally

hammer stamped," said Buckrell.

Returning to the mill on January 13, LLO officials were blocked by Everbright guards

from entering the grounds to resume their inspection.

Efforts by the LLO officials to seek legal recourse from the Kandal court to resolve

the standoff were stymied by the fact the courts were closed for the weekend of Jan


On Monday, January 15 Kandal Court Prosecutor Chheng Phat denied a request from the

DFW for a search warrant to inspect Everbright's mill on the grounds that the company

had already lodged a criminal complaint against DFW staff.

The following day - acting on a request from Everbright -Phat issued an injunction

preventing further inspection of the mill and resuming the standoff between the Everbright

and the DFW.

LLO officials try to get permission to inspect the Everbright Mill.

Everbright's recent actions help reinforce its already firmly-established record

of ignoring laws pertaining to Cambodia's forestry sector.

Last year's Asian Development Bank's (ADB) Forest Concession Review report - which

called the management of Cambodia's forestry sector "a complete systems failure"

- stated that Everbright has repeatedly breached its contract with the Government.

The ADB report criticized Everbright for failing to post $50,000 advance deposits

decreed by Article 13 of its Forest Timber License.

In addition, the ADB report noted that Everbright had failed to pay annual government

royalties amounting to $150,000 for its second and third years of harvesting.

DFW' Director General Ty Sokhun told the Post that Everbright paid the minimum royalties

for the year 2000.

However, he expressed frustration at Everbright's refusal to pay the $200,000 that

it is in arrears.

"How can we take action?" he said of Everbright's unwillingness to honor

the terms of its contract with the Cambodian government.

Everbright was also singled out in the ADB report for not practicing sustainable

forestry. The report noted that only between 10 to 15 years of cutting remained in

its concession area - about half of the 25 years required for surprised yield management.

In spite of its long record of financial and operational malfeasance, the company

has surprised GW and DFW representatives by filing a criminal complaint alleging

their investigation into the company's illegal logging activities was itself illegal.

On Jan 16 Kandal court issued an injunction halting further inspection and investigation

of Everbright's Kandal mill operations.

"[The Court] orders the Working Group of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries

and Wildlife to halt the search of logs inside Everbright plywood company in Kien

Svay District for a period of time because there's no apparent activity," the

injunction issued by Kandal Court Prosecutor Chheng Phat states.

Kandal's Vice Prosecutor Kry Sok Ie explained that "activity" was defined

as ongoing criminal activity such as illegal log transport or the processing of illegally

felled logs. He did not define the possible duration of the injunction's stated "period

of time".

The injunction was issued despite the fact that the day previous a joint DFW/GW team

had determined that 30 to 40 percent of logs stockpiled at Evergreen's log rest area

at Kratie's Romoul village were unstamped and thus illegal.

DFW's Director Ty Sokhun said his department will "try its best" to inspect

Everbright's mill, but any future action will be determined by findings of the Kandal

court. Sokhun said Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng is supporting DFW's position and

has asked the Ministry of Justice to intervene on its behalf.

GW's Buckrell said the evidence against Everbright is damning, but the cover up is

in full swing

"I do not expect to find anything out of order when the company eventually lets

us carry out an inspection. How can DFW and Global Witness be expected to carry out

any serious monitoring if the concessionaires won't cooperate?

"Everbright's court injunction against further inspection goes beyond non-cooperation

[and] amounts to complete obstruction. This company is clearly not serious about

the reforms that are being put in place," said Buckrell.

Immediate and unrestricted access to concessions and processing facilities for DFW

and independent monitors must be written into the new concession agreements, he added.

Sokhun said loopholes in the present forestry law make enforcement efforts by DFW

ineffective. "We need a new forestry law as soon as possible," Sokun said.

An aerial forest monitoring survey last month found logging trucks trying to make quick turn-offs to avoid being detected

Ky Tech, an attorney at Cambodia Law Firm acting for Everbright told the Post that

the case Everbright was launching against GW and DFW was "...not so serious."

The company only seeks an apology from Global Witness and the DFW officials who should

run an apology in Cambodian, Chinese and English-language newspapers.

"It is up to the court to decide whether or not to arrest Global Witness official.

It depends on the investigating judge.

"The company did not demand their arrest, it only seeks an apology and wants

the court to urge them to stop their abuse [of] the company," Tech said.



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