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ELC firms called to court over illegal timber

Authorities inspect timber in Kratie province earlier this year during an ongoing crackdown on logging. In the last two weeks seven companies have been summonsed in relation to illegal logging. Photo supplied
Authorities inspect timber in Kratie province earlier this year during an ongoing crackdown on logging. In the last two weeks seven companies have been summonsed in relation to illegal logging. Photo supplied

ELC firms called to court over illegal timber

Prosecutors in Kratie, Mondulkiri and Ratanakkiri provinces yesterday said they have summonsed seven companies and nine individuals to provincial courts to answer about illegal timber found in their possession during a nationwide logging crackdown.

The summonses were issued over the past two weeks. The companies – two in Kratie and five in Mondulkiri – are mostly from China and Vietnam and control thousands of hectares in economic land concessions.

Some had been linked with illegal logging even before this year’s crackdown. After the recent sweeps, which some environmental activists insist have been largely for show, some were accused of setting their wood on fire to destroy evidence.

“Some companies had answered, while others have not yet,” said Meas Bros, chief of administration at Mondulkiri Provincial Court.

Mondulkiri deputy prosecutor So Sovithya said companies that have not come in yet include Unigreen Resource, a Chinese ELC, and Binh Phuoc, a subsidiary of Vietnam Rubber Group. They are due in court next week.

Communities living near Binh Phuoc’s ELC have long accused the concession of laundering illegal wood felled outside its boundaries, arguing that wealthy businessman Soeng Sam Ol, one of the earliest targets of the crackdown, is the timber’s main buyer.

Eng Hy, spokesman for the committee tasked with the crackdown, said his team had investigated charred logs on Binh Phuoc property in January that rights group Adhoc said were burned just before authorities arrived.

Unigreen Resource had 600 of 1,000 logs inside its ELC consumed in a fire, according to deputy Forestry Administration chief Prom Sovanna. Timber tycoon Try Pheap publicly distanced himself from Unigreen in February amid rumours of his involvement in its logging.

In Kratie, China Dynamic Investments and C & V Group, which share Chinese and Cambodian investors, were called in to explain thousands of logs that had been found on their ELCs in January.

Both firms appeared in court last week and denied the wood belonged to them. Prosecutors plan to call in witnesses to testify next week, but did not say who the witnesses are or how many will come.

“We have problems that authorities and experts had reported . . . but the company denied that the wood belongs to them,” said Kratie deputy prosecutor Hak Horn.

In Ratanakkiri, meanwhile, provincial deputy prosecutor Mam Vanda said that nine individuals were summonsed for transporting and stockpiling illegal wood in the forest.

He did not say whether any have appeared in court yet.

Binh Phuoc, Unigreen, China Dynamic and C & V did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

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