Mondulkiri's provincial court has charged renegade ex-official Sou Marith with illegal arms possession and issued a warrant for his arrest following a dramatic escape he made from authorities who surrounded his mansion last week.
The warrant is the second one issued for Marith after he was accused in May 2014 of pointing a gun at Keo Seima District Governor Sin Vannvuth. No action was ever taken on the original warrant.
Last Wednesday, Marith fired a gun from his sprawling mansion in Keo Seima district’s Sre Khtum commune after authorities – including Vannvuth – tailed one of two timber-loaded cars there. But Marith managed to escape while police waited for the provincial court to issue a search warrant.
Deputy provincial prosecutor Chea Sovannthet said Marith was charged on Friday with illegal weapons possession over the incident, while Forestry Administration officials continue to investigate the provenance of the more than 200 pieces of luxury timber found at the home.
Provincial prosecutor Long Hokmeng said that contrary to earlier reports, Marith had not fired on authorities but only fired “warning shots”.
The driver of Marith’s car, 21-year-old Than Rithy, was arrested that day and charged with obstruction after he grabbed a wooden stick with which to attack the authorities who had pursued him.
A court official who asked to remain anonymous said police had deliberately avoided acting on the 2014 warrant for Marith, who grew rich from the illegal timber trade.
“We issued that warrant a long time ago, but the authorities did not implement it. During every [monthly meeting with police], the court always raised the issue,” the official said.
But deputy provincial police chief So Sovann denied that police turned a blind eye.
“We saw the arrest warrant and tried to implement it, but [Marith] was not usually at home. He was in the forest as an illegal timber trader,” Sovann said.
Meanwhile, members of the government’s committee to crack down on illegal logging said they inspected a timber warehouse belonging to a tycoon known as “Oknha Thai” in Tbong Khmum province’s O’Reang-ou district.
Authorities locked up the warehouse and the committee will measure the timber at a later date, said district police chief Loeung Rotha.