Five men allegedly caught with 10 cubic metres of illegal rosewood worth more than $1 million on Wednesday were being questioned in Stung Treng provincial court yesterday, officials said.
Chroeung Khmao, the provincial prosecutor, said the men – four Chinese citizens and one Cambodian – were being quizzed over the haul, seized from a rental house in Stung Treng district’s Srah Russei commune.
“I am not sure if I’ll finish questioning them today or whether that questioning will continue tomorrow,” he said, adding that the ongoing nature of court proceedings prevented him from saying more.
A senior military police officer in Stung Treng province, who asked not to be named, said a joint operation involving military police, Forestry Administration officials and the provincial prosecutor raided the rental house in Leu village, confiscating 586 pieces of rosewood, $20,000 cash and two cars.
“That evidence is now with Forestry Administration officials, and the five men are being questioned in court,” he said.
A villager, who also requested anonymity, said he had often seen people bringing rosewood to and from the house, which the four Chinese men had rented for about four years.
“I don’t think those men would dare do business like that in a provincial town like this if they did not have the backing of senior officials,” he said.
Chhim Savuth, a Cambodian Center for Human Rights program officer, said average citizens logging rosewood usually dealt only in small quantities.
In hauls as big as this, he said, government officers, soldiers and other powerful people were often involved, he added.
“But authorities have no willingness to take action against these people and never find them guilty.”
On New Year’s Eve, forestry officials in Stung Treng seized a truck loaded with endangered and illegal wood.
In a letter bearing the logo of the Ministry of Interior, Kampong Cham deputy governor Pen Ean asked officials to “allow the driver to bring the wood” to his home.
Ev Ekthasavetey, provincial director of the Forestry Administration, declined to comment, while the administration’s chief, Cheng Kimsun, could not be reached.
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