Prime Minister Hun Sen’s brother Hun Neng and a Vietnamese state-owned rubber firm are involved in an illegal logging cartel involving several well-connected companies operating on a “massive scale” in the embattled Prey Lang forest, forest monitors working in the area allege.
Video footage and photographs advocacy groups say were shot over the past two weeks show trucks bearing the logo of tycoon Try Pheap’s MDS Import Export Co Ltd transporting timber to sawmills in Kampong Thom’s Chu Pah Rubber Development Project and a social land concession allegedly overseen by Hun Neng.
The Chu Pah project is run by CRCK II Kampong Thom, which is a subsidiary of the Vietnamese government’s state-owned Vietnam Rubber Group.
The Post could not independently verify the location or date that the footage and images were taken, and Hun Neng yesterday denied the claims. An official from the Vietnam Rubber Group declined to comment.
Adding to the complex stew of connections, Chhim Savuth, director of the Natural Resource Protection Group, said that Seng Saravuth – a logging firm owned by Seng Kok Kheang, the former brother-in-law of Hun Sen’s nephew Hun Choch – holds the licence to clear timber for CRCK.
A Post reporter visiting the area in March 2012 confirmed the sawmills are operated by Seng Saravuth.
Over the past three years, CRCK has built two sawmills, in O’Ngeav and Meanrith communes, Savuth added, while Seng Saravuth operates another in the area.
However, as the timber has dried up, Kok Kheang moved the operation to Stung Touch village in Meanrith commune, where Savuth alleged Hun Neng controls land allocated for disabled military veterans.
“Hun Neng received that social land concession a long time ago to hand out to disabled soldiers, but he did not give it to the people. They took that land to build eight sawmills to conduct logging,” Savuth said, adding that a fence had been erected around the concession to keep villagers out.
Hun Neng, also a former governor of Kampong Cham, yesterday denied he was involved in the logging operation.
“My land is in Kampong Thom, but it’s close to Kampong Cham. I am not involved with the land in Sandan district,” he said.
CRCK and Seng Saravuth have been embroiled in disputes with locals over their logging activities for several years. In March 2012, more than 200 villagers stormed a Seng Saravuth sawmill, clashing with security guards.
“The [CRCK] concession was approved in 2010. It really looks like they’re just laundering timber from the Prey Lang forest and bringing it out on a massive scale,” conservationist Marcus Hardtke said.
“It’s completely illegal. They [CRCK] plant some rubber trees, but at the same time, there’s a major illegal logging operation going on under cover of these plantations, and if this is not stopped, this can continue for years and years until the whole forest is destroyed.”
The allegations came three days after Hun Sen announced that companies holding economic land concessions that had breached their contracts would have them revoked and turned into SLCs, or social land concessions, which are generally allocated to military veterans. The threat was quickly dismissed by Son Chhay, the opposition party’s chief whip, who said the new SLCs would just fall into the hands of “corrupt generals”.
Chum Yim, an anti-logging community activist, said yesterday that the collusion of illegal logging syndicates with powerful officials made community action difficult.
“Prey Lang cannot go back to the way it was, or be protected, because the authorities join hands with loggers to do business,” he said, adding that CRCK had moved its sawmill into the SLC in Meanrith commune. “Now they increased their logging of trees, because that place is also close to Prey Lang.”
Yim called on the government to intervene and take legal action against the syndicate.
“I would like to ask the government to please recognise the anarchic logging in Prey Lang. Please do not listen to officials that speak lies that there is no logging.”
Thon Sarath, chief of administration at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said yesterday that companies had been granted permission to log inside the concession, adding that if evidence was presented to the ministry indicating the firm was involved in illegal activity, CRCK could have its licence revoked.
“If we know for sure that the company logged outside their area, and we received the evidence, we will punish them by withdrawing their licence,” Sarath said.
He added that locals should act soon by filing complaints to the authorities.
“They should take action quickly to protect [the forest] together, because it is our natural resource. Our department already has a plan to work against what is happening.
“But we need time to make it work. Vietnam [has promised to] take action against their companies [which log illegally in Cambodia] by not providing them with loans.”
But the future, according to Hardtke, does not look bright.
“Prey Lang was at the heart of the community movement against illegal logging, and that is still going on, but it’s weakening now. In part that’s because there’s not enough support from NGOs and donors, and not enough political support, and because of the increasing anarchy on the ground,” he said.
“It’s all-out destruction. The protected areas are not protected. It’s a breakdown in the system. What can you do? Report this to the responsible authorities? [CRCK] is like a tumour sitting on the side of this forest.”