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Authorities allowed to freeze assets of forestry criminals

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Sao Sokha, the chairman of the National Committee for Prevention and Crackdown on Natural Resource Crimes, stands on timber seized in Mondulkiri province on August 6. GRK News via Facebook

Authorities allowed to freeze assets of forestry criminals

The government has authorised the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the National Committee for Prevention and Crackdown on Natural Resource Crimes to freeze the assets of anyone found to be involved in illegal logging and timber trading, Council of Ministers spokesman Hing Thoraksy said.

In a directive seen by The Post on Sunday, Thoraksy said the decision followed the government’s review of crackdowns on large-scale forestry crimes over the past year. The asset freezing, he said, would add to legal punishment and fines.

“Freeze the assets of offenders, seize all the materials used to commit the crimes and retain them for the court’s use as evidence,” said the letter.

The government also authorised the ministry and national committee to revoke permits for the transportation of timber and other forestry products from economic land concessions. The annulment, the letter said, would allow for better oversight after the government’s issuance of new permits.

According to the directive, relevant authorities are obliged to review and revoke licences of companies found to have breached their economic land concession contracts and agreement with the government.

The authorities, the letter said, must put more efforts in boosting awareness of forestry laws and preventing forestry crimes. As deterrence after each large-scale crackdown, the names of perpetrators are to be carved on a stone erected at the location where logging materials are destructed by the authorities.

Committee spokesman Eng Hy stressed that the final decision to seize and freeze the assets of perpetrators rest with respective municipal and provincial courts.

“The committee can’t make such decisions. The courts have full jurisdiction,” he said.

Hy said the case of tycoon Kong Kreung, who holds the honorific Oknha and whose asset accumulation over the years is being investigated, is also under the Kratie provincial court’s jurisdiction.

Tiv Vuthen, the spokesman for the Kratie Provincial Court, told The Post on Sunday that it had not received a detailed report on Kreung’s case.

“We can’t provide any details now, but we are going to look into Oknha Kreung’s asset accumulation soon after my superiors decide on the next step,” he said.

San Bunthan, Kratie provincial Military Police chief, said he had already referred Oknha Kreung’s case to the higher authorities and the court.

“The case is in the court’s hands and beyond our jurisdiction now. I’m not aware what has become of it,” he said.

During a meeting of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP) Central Committee held at Koh Pich Convention and Exhibition Centre on Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen renewed his call for the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) to take tough action by seizing and freezing the assets of anyone found to be involved in natural resource destruction.

Pen Bonna, the senior land and natural resources officer for rights group Adhoc, said the government’s directive authorising the asset freezing is in line with Article 94 of the Forestry Law, which says anyone harming the forest ecosystem shall be liable for payment to restore it to its original condition.

“The assets of those committing or involved in forestry crimes must be seized. If there was no systemic corruption, the forest would not have been destroyed at current scale. This action should have been introduced 15 years ago,” he said.

Hun Sen had, on Tuesday, also sent a letter Sao Sokha, the chairman of the National Committee for Prevention and Crackdown on Natural Resource Crimes, asking him to carve the names of criminals who destroy the forest on a stone.

“To publicise their deeds and educate people about the attention being paid to protecting the forest by the government – and about our preventive measures and crackdowns on forest crimes – I request that the names of criminals be carved on a stone to be placed where trucks have been destroyed,” his letter read.

More than 20 people have recently been summoned for questioning over forestry crimes, include Vietnamese and Chinese nationals, Forestry Administration officials and several oknhas – including Srun Mengleang, Top Vida and Vun Bun Thay. Oknhas Soeng Sam Ol and Kong Kreung are currently in pre-trial detention.

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