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Trio play journalists to extort farmer

Marking the latest development in a long-running trend of individuals posing as NGO staffers and journalists to shake down ordinary people, Kampong Thom’s provincial court yesterday charged two men accused of extorting a rice farmer.

According to Kampong Thom Provincial Police Chief in charge of crime Kae Khannara, farmer Yong Sophanun, 32, said suspects Pov Bunthorn, 35, Pang Yat, 46, along with an accomplice named Phorn Socheat, 40, approached him last Friday as he ploughed a rice field in Prek Sbov village.

When the group met Sophanun, said Khanarra, Socheat presented himself as a reporter for the Apsara television network.

Bunthorn and Yat, according to deputy prosecutor and Kampong Thom provincial prisons spokesperson Say Nora, carried badges identifying themselves as employees of the Cheat Khmer newspaper and a local NGO whose name roughly translates to the Natural Resources and Wildlife Organization of Cambodia, respectively.

Accusing him of illegally exploiting state land, the trio demanded Sophanun pay $800 in exchange for their silence.

After hours of interrogation, said Nora, investigative Judge Khorn Kosal “charged [the two suspects] with extortion and ordered their pre-trial detention in Kampong Thom Provincial Prison”.

Socheat, said Khannara, remains at large as Kampong Thom provincial authorities continue to search for him. Meanwhile, Bunthorn and Yat maintain they only received $700 from their victim.

Khannara said Bunthorn and Yat are no strangers to local authorities, having been arrested and “educated” together two other times this year in Kampong Thom for extorting farmers hauling rice, corn, cassava and firewood.

“They did not learn the lesson and they keep making [this] mistake over and over again and this time, it is a huge extortion which cannot be exempted,” he said.

Khannara said that provincial authorities are investigating the legitimacy of Yat’s alleged employer, the Cambodia Natural Resources and Wildlife Organization. Neither the Ministry of Information nor Apsara could be reached for comment.

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