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Appeal court hears case of ivory tusks from South Africa

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Officers from Cambodian customs display some of the 1.3 tonnes of African elephant tusks seized from containers shipped from Mozambique to Phnom Penh in 2016. Wildlife Alliance

Appeal court hears case of ivory tusks from South Africa

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court of Appeal on February 8 heard a case filed by the head of a freight company who claimed he was deceived into signing documents approving a shipment of more than three tonnes of elephant ivory from South Africa in 2014.

According to documents read by prosecutor Tan Senarong, the Preah Sihanouk province branch of the General Department of Customs and Excise (GDCE) confiscated ivory that was transported in a container to Sihanoukville Autonomous Port on May 9, 2014. A total of 776 ivory tusks wrapped in 108 piles weighing a total of 3,008kg were discovered in a container that also contained bean seeds.

After investigating, GDCE officials found that the freight firm, Reho Both (Cambodia), was linked to the transportation, with its executive director Khan Sinith, 41, was identified as the importer.

Setting out his case to the appeal court on February 8, Sinith claimed that his company worked in partnership with another firm that imported smartphones to Cambodia. He alleged that the partner company deceived him into signing documents to obtain clearance for the shipment.

Sinith said his partner company had merely asked him to sign documents regarding transportation and tax. His company had even stamped documents for the partner company to use for their imports because he trusted them, he added.

“But I don’t know why I see the name of my company on the letter to receive the elephant ivory. That was why I filed the complaint to the municipal appeal court.

“I would like the court to drop the charge against me,” he said.

Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court delivered a verdict on December 13, 2016, sentencing Sinith to three years in prison, with two years suspended. The court also fined Sinith 50 million riels (around $12,300).

Appeal court prosecutor Tan Senarong concluded that Sinith’s argument to defend his innocence was insufficient as long as he could not submit the official clarification in writing to the court.

“Should there be no additional document to lift the burden, I have requested that the judge uphold the decision made by Preah Sihanouk provincial court,” he said.

A verdict is due on February 28.

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