THE defence lawyer for three journalists and a provincial official accused of extorting money from a wood vendor in Kampong Cham province said Tuesday that her clients will file a lawsuit against the wood vendor at the provincial court next week.
Defence lawyer Ny Vuthy said her clients – journalists Chea Lyheang, Tong Sophon and Thorng Kimhuoth, and Chhy Hok Kimsrean, the head of Kampong Cham’s Rural Development Committee – would sue the vendor for defamation.
“The wood vendor accused my clients of extorting money from her without any evidence,” she said. She added that her clients would file a separate complaint against the wood seller and six other vendors accusing them of trading in illegal timber.
In April, Mey Kim Huon, a wood vendor from Stung Trong district’s Areak Thnouth commune, filed a complaint with the provincial court, claiming the journalists had threatened to publish stories accusing her of selling illegal wood unless she paid them US$300.
“I told them that I only had $50, but they refused,” she said. “Two days later, they published a story that ... called me an illegal wood vendor.”
The four accused of extortion have denied wrongdoing and say they began investigating the vendors after getting a tip from a local farmer.
Tong Sophon said Tuesday that on April 5 he and a colleague found around 40 cubic metres of illegal timber on a farm owned by a vendor named Kau Sam, who has since also accused the reporters and Chhy Hok Kimsrean of extortion.
Authorities did nothing to seize the illegal haul, he said, and added that the vendors reportedly moved the wood to another location later that night. He said he heard of the extortion claims only a few weeks later, when the journalists and official were called to court. “It is very unjust for us,” he said.
Provincial court prosecutor Huoth Vuthy said he was too busy to comment Tuesday, but on May 10 said the case would be closed if the wood vendors could not produce any evidence.