A high-profile investigation into corruption charges levelled against Mondulkiri police officials for colluding with Vietnamese timber traders has been transferred from the provincial court to Phnom Penh due to a lethargic investigation by local police, many of whom are involved in the case, a court spokesman said yesterday.
The case dates to March, when a National Police investigation found more than a dozen police, Military Police and army officials had colluded with Vietnamese smugglers after allegedly receiving $170,000 from Vietnamese timber trader Uk Nhor.
While the take was received by two Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officers and a Border Police official, according to the National Police report, it was also shared with a provincial Military Police commander and a Forestry Administration official, among others.
Seven Vietnamese nationals were also arrested as part of the same case for possession of 145 logs in February and are currently in pre-trial detention.
Meas Bros, spokesman for the Mondulkiri Provincial Court, said Justice Minister Ang Vong Vattana requested that the case be transferred to the capital, attributing the request to the slow investigation by the local police, some of whom were linked to the case.
“The case happened in Mondulkiri province, so only the officials here are involved. All involved officials are working in this province,” Bros said, adding that their involvement in the case facilitated the transfer.
He said that the case had already been transferred to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, with Y Rin, the Phnom Penh court’s administrator, confirming the case was now under its jurisdiction.
The investigation recommended nine of 11 National Police officials receive administrative disciplinary actions, but for Chum Rattanak, the National Police’s border police chief at O’Chum, and Leang Phearoth, the O’Huch border police chief, it recommended court charges.
Morm Vanda, spokesman of provincial court’s prosecutors, declined to comment, and Mondulkiri Provincial Deputy Police Chief Sou Sovan said his department had not conducted any investigation on the case besides punishing two of the 11.
Pen Bonnar, senior land and natural resources investigator at the rights group Adhoc, said the high-profile nature of the case, which was investigated by Military Police head Sao Sokha’s logging task force, and the involvement of multiple local officials meant it had to be transferred to ensure a fair trial.
“The crime is absolutely severe. Therefore, the provincial court will not be able to handle it and there will be no justice,” Bonnar said. “It is better to be prosecuted in Phnom Penh.”
However, environmental activist Ouch Leng said the transfer seemed like a delaying tactic and could potentially keep the accused out of court for a prolonged period of time.
“It shows clearly that this is corruption, but the court does not dare to take action. The court is reluctant and does not dare to take action on the timber traders who look down upon the Cambodia’s laws.”