The two tigers that Von and Sophea are accused of trafficking
CPP Senator has been implicated in illegal wildlife trafficking following a series
of undercover sting operations that rescued seven tigers and three sun bears from
dealers in Phnom Penh.
It is alleged by suspects arrested in one of the raids that a CPP Senator, Nhim Vanda,
had bought two of the tigers, as well as a lion, from Thai dealers - and used his
vehicles and employees to transport these animals to Phnom Penh.
Military Police working for the Forest Crime Monitoring Unit (FCMU), in cooperation
with the conservation organization WildAid, confiscated four tigers being sold in
Phnom Penh on October 19.
Two suspected wildlife traffickers - Nhean Von, 45, and Hak Sophea, 32, both from
Poipet - are being held while a Municipal Court prosecutor investigates.
In a separate case, FCMU officers raided a house in downtown Phnom Penh, and confiscated
three more tigers and two sun bears on October 22. One suspect, Ly Huot, 67, was
arrested after allegedly selling the animals to undercover agents working with the
FCMU. Huot was questioned and freed later that same day.
In an interview with the Post, the men still being held on suspicion of trafficking
two of the tigers, Von and Sophea, said Senator Nhim Vanda, the former Head of the
National Committee for Disaster Management and an advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen,
was deeply involved in the purchase and transport of the animals.
"[Thai wildlife traders] showed me photos of the tigers and asked me to find
buyers," said Von. "Then I met Uncle Nhim Vanda who asked me to buy a lion
for him. But the Thais said they would only sell the lion if we also bought the tigers.
"We got photos of the tigers from the Thais more than one month ago," said
Von. "Then we contacted Uncle [Vanda]. We had to come to his house a few times
because we kept missing him. It took us about one month to get the lion and tigers
Von said it was a Thai police official who brought two tigers and a lion to his home.
He said the tigers were transported across the border through a rabeang [a smugglers'
passage] near the Poipet border checkpoint between Thailand and Cambodia.
"[Cambodian border officials] also helped to bring the animals into Cambodia
because they heard they were for Uncle [Vanda]," said Von.
"But [Vanda] didn't really want the tigers, he has a lot already. He just asked
us to find buyers for them," said Von.
Sophea said he found foreign clients [actually undercover investigators] who agreed
to buy the tigers in Phnom Penh.
"Nhim Vanda ordered his bodyguard to transport [the animals] from Poipet to
Phnom Penh," said Von.
Sophea said Vanda gave his bodyguard approximately $7,000 to buy the lion and two
Vanda issued and signed a letter giving the men permission to transport the tigers
and lion to Phnom Penh, said Sophea, adding that between Poipet and Phnom Penh their
vehicles and animal cargo were checked several times by police and Department of
Forestry and Wildlife (DFW) officials.
FCMU officers said only the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries can issue a permit
to transport wildlife.
Sophea said when they arrived at Vanda's house in Phnom Penh, Vanda ordered the lion
to be transported immediately to his private zoo in Tek Chhou, Kampot Province. Vanda
told the men the tigers should be moved to his land behind the Depot Market while
waiting for the buyers.
Sophea said he told Vanda the tigers were to be sold to some foreigners.
The suspects said that while in Phnom Penh they safeguarded the tigers at the Depot
Von said the letter giving permission to transport the animals was kept by Vanda's
bodyguard. He said the bodyguard showed the letter to the Forestry Task Force police
after they were taken into custody and the police simply gave the letter back to
the bodyguard after reading it.
Rus Kannara, Deputy Chief of the DFW's Intervention Force, led the Military Police
team that arrested the suspects. Kannara said he was not aware of any letter from
Vanda giving his employees permission to transport the animals.
In a brief interview with the Post on October 19 Vanda's bodyguard, Nguon Sophal,
flashed his Military Police ID card and said had worked for Vanda for only about
one month and knew nothing of the tigers. He said when he left Vanda's house that
morning he believed he was going with Vanda's driver, Om Un, to fetch a load of coconuts.
Neither Un nor Sophal were held for further questioning, but Vanda's truck used to
transport the tigers remains impounded by the authorities.
The DFW's Deputy Director General, Chea Sam Ang, said future investigations would
not involve Nhim Vanda. "In this case only Vanda's driver and bodyguard are
involved, therefore we cannot accuse Nhim Vanda," he said.
Von told the Post he will never again be involved in wildlife trafficking. "Now
that we are in trouble, we want to offer the tigers to the Government so they can
let us free."
Repeated attempts to contact Vanda for comment before Post press time were unsuccessful.