The government’s apparent unwillingness to take seriously evidence of continued large-scale illegal logging orchestrated by the Try Pheap Group is “disappointing”, Global Witness said yesterday.
A report released last week by the UK-based group titled The Cost of Luxury detailed evidence, collected during an eight-month covert investigation in Cambodia and Hong Kong, which suggested that tycoon Try Pheap sat at the helm of a multimillion-dollar timber smuggling network.
Minister of Agriculture Ouk Rabun on Monday dismissed the group’s findings.
“Global Witness does not understand our procedure. In reality, we have clear procedures for exporting timber without any conspiracy,” he said. “If we did [conspire], they could not take pictures of the containers at ports.”
Megan MacInnes, head of the land campaign at Global Witness, said the minister’s response to the evidence amounted to a tacit endorsement of the alleged illegal activities of the Try Pheap Group.
“Global Witness is disappointed by the response from the Minister for Agriculture. We are not the first to publish evidence of the illegal logging operations of Okhna Try Pheap; nor are we the first to raise concerns about the rapid clearance of Cambodia’s remaining forests and the environmental and social impact,” MacInnes said via email yesterday.
“We had hoped that the government would take our evidence seriously, initiate an investigation into the activities of the Try Pheap Group, and take urgent steps to enforce the country’s forest protection laws. Instead, the ministry appears to be yet again stepping in to support Try Pheap and endorse his activities.”
Officials at the Forestry Administration declined to comment, but Ministry of Agriculture spokesman Thun Sarath stood by Rabun’s comments.
“They enforce the law [on the Try Pheap Group]; no problem. The response of the minister is according to the law,” he said, without elaborating.
“When they report to [Rabun], they can take action. When the minister is informed, he can refer the matter to law enforcement. They can make a formal complaint to the minister.”
Representatives of the Try Pheap Group could not be reached.
Soaring demand for luxury hongmu furniture in China drives the trade and has dramatically increased the profits of illegal timber dealers in recent years, according to forest monitors.