A company owned by a tycoon accused of logging vast stretches of forest in Virachey National Park yesterday fired back at its detractors, claiming that it paid the state more than $1 million in taxes and was cleared by a recent anti-illegal logging task force.
In June of last year, 23 opposition lawmakers accused tycoons An Mardy and Try Pheap of illegally cutting timber in the park following a visit there. Prime Minister Hun Sen defended the tycoons in a response in November, claiming they legally obtained and sold the timber.
But as the government continues a crackdown on illegal logging by the Vietnamese border that began earlier this month, Hong Soklieng, a company representative for Mardy’s company in Virachey, vociferously denied the opposition’s accusations as “baseless”.
“They saw the company’s timber and then made an accusation. They may write laws, but they just accused us of illegal logging, which is not true,” Soklieng said yesterday.
Soklieng said Mardy’s company received a licence to collect timber from an economic land concession (ELC) owned by Noupheap Sophy Investment in late 2011, collecting nearly 6,000 cubic metres of timber by 2015.
He claimed all the timber was checked by the authorities and that the company paid $1 million in taxes over the four-year stretch. “We only needed the land for cultivation – not for timber,” Soklieng added.
Noupheap Sophy Investment was granted 9,000 hectares of ELCs in Virachey National Park in 2011 spread across Ratanakkiri province’s Taveng and Andong Meas districts. It cleared more than 850 hectares of that land for rubber and cashew plantations.
The director of Noupheap Sophy Investment is An Sophy, a female cousin of Mardy. Addressing the ongoing timber crackdown spearheaded by the military police, Soklieng stressed that “none” of Mardy’s timber was found to be illegal.
However, Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Kang Kimhak, one of the 23 opposition lawmakers who first raised concerns, was highly sceptical of the company’s claims – and of the crackdown itself.
“The timber within the company was [processed] and packed without the seal for paying taxes to the state,” he said. “The crackdown is like a storm. It will last only a short period of time and be gone.”
Military police spokesman Eng Hy said he could not confirm whether Mardy’s timber had been cleared yet. He did, however, defend the crackdown.
“Since the committee was created, no timber was transported to Vietnam, no logging took place at notorious sites, and the committee’s experts are in full control of [timber] warehouses.”