The Anti-corruption unit (ACU) is investigating environment officials in Preah Vihear province on suspicion of allowing forest crimes to take place in the Prey Lang area.

The Prey Lang Community Network (PLCN) claimed the officials had been paid off by a large-scale forest logging operation in the area.

ACU president Om Yentieng early last week sent a letter to Preah Vihear provincial Department of Environment director Song Chan Socheat asking for clarification on irregular activities of environment officials Som Rotha and Khut Soeurm who are accused of colluding with timber traders.

The letter said the men had colluded systematically with a major timber trader in Putrea commune’s Peuk village in Chey Saen district to demand 80,000 riel to 100,000 riel ($20 to $25) per vehicle entering the forest.

Yentieng’s letter also stated that drivers of the improvised vehicles who paid the money but didn’t sell timber to a man named Leng, were not allowed to transport timber from the village and the environment officials intercepted them.

“According to (our) information, Leng and Dy are colluding to pave the way for homemade truck drivers to freely clear and destroy the Prey Lang forest.

“Homemade truck drivers saw timber three to five times a week with the names of Dy, Roeun, Meth and Yeay Len as the ringleaders,” Yentieng wrote.

The ringleaders are the collectors of timber from those who go to the forest to saw timber around Trea and Peuk villages in collusion with the environment official, a community member and a police administration official, his letter said.

Ministry of Environment spokesperson Neth Pheaktra said he had no comment and would leave it to the ACU to decide.

Yentieng could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Khuth Soeurm said Rotha, the environment official in charge of Prey Lang, was found to frequently drive his car to meet timber businessmen and was allegedly close to those involved with illegal timber businesses.

He said according to the information he received, Dy, Meth and Nuon have no offices in the government, but they are known for illegal timber business in Preah Vihear. The PLCN used to seize timber from these business people, Soeurm said.

“In Peuk village most of the business people come to buy timber directly. Timber is transported on motorcycles and home-made trucks to Kampong Thom province.

“It is the place where the environment officials stay. It is the headquarters. This village is the area to gather major timber traders because there are many exits and entrances to the Prey Lang forest which is like a vein,” he said.