A rare high-level investigation into allegations several Mondulkiri officials pocketed thousands of dollars in bribes from a Vietnamese timber smuggler may not lead to any convictions, suggests a letter obtained by The Post and comments by a provincial official.
According to the letter, obtained on Sunday and signed by army Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun, Mondulkiri Provincial Military Commander Khin Meng Sreang – who was linked to the case – has been allowed to keep his position by Defence Minister Tea Banh after being “educated” about “careless . . . mistakes”.
Meanwhile, others linked to the smuggling – including police, gendarmes, soldiers and Forestry Administration officers – had been disciplined with “transfers”, Mondulkiri Deputy Provincial Governor Choeung Sochantha said yesterday.
The investigation was triggered in February when authorities intercepted an illegal timber haul in the Keo Seima protected area and arrested seven Vietnamese nationals.
Information later released by authorities accused four officials – including two RCAF officers and two border police officials from the O’Huch border crossing – of receiving $170,000 from a Vietnamese timber trader and spreading the cash to other officials in the province.
The case was transferred in July to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, though the court’s spokesman Ly Sophanna was unreachable yesterday to discuss the case’s progress.
Sochantha, the deputy Mondulkiri governor, however said the case had been “handled gradually” and “almost solved”.
He noted former Provincial Police Chief Touch Yun and former Provincial Military Police Commander Sak Sarang, both of whom were questioned by Cambodia’s anti-logging task force over the smuggling, had been moved to other provinces.
“We have almost solved all for this province, almost all of them have been transferred,” he said.
However, Khin Meng Sreang, a brigadier general, will keep his position as Mondulkiri provincial military commander, according to the letter, which was addressed to army chief Meas Sophea.
The letter states that on August 20, Defence Minister Tea Banh decided to use “education” as a means to address soldiers who make “mistakes” and are “careless” fulfilling their “obligations”.
“Therefore His Excellency commander of the infantry should use measures to educate for Brigadier General Khin Meng Sreang, commander of Mondulkiri, but keep his position,” it reads.
Despite repeated statements from the government that a January 2016 ban on timber exports to Vietnam had stopped all but small-scale smugglers, recent Vietnamese customs data suggests the cross-border trade remains significant.
An Environmental Investigation Agency investigation released in May revealed evidence suggesting officials in Ratanakkiri had also received vast payoffs to facilitate Vietnamese-backed illegal logging.
Long-time anti-logging activist Marcus Hardtke said crackdowns and investigations into logging were a veil under which politically-connected traders jostled for position.
“It’s a well oiled system that exists under the facade of official policy and law, and the military has been a key player in it from the start,” he said.