The Phnom Penh Appeals Court has ruled that Malaysian-owned Grand Atlantic Timber
(GAT) should go unpunished for illegal logging in the Cardamom Mountains.
The December 18 verdict in the Appeals Court upheld an earlier Koh Kong provincial
The Appeal's Court accepted GAT's argument that the 777 logs the Department of Forestry
and Wildlife (DFW) accused GAT of illegally cutting were just the by-product of company
road construction within its concession.
The court ruling disregarded a GAT manager's written confession that many of the
777 logs had been illegally cut in a neighboring company's concession.
Patrick Alley, Director of the environmental watchdog organization Global Witness,
said they are disappointed with the Appeals Court ruling.
"It demonstrates that industrial logging companies can flout the law, and can
undermine all of the extensive efforts to reform the forest sector by the government
and the donor community, and receive minimal penalties," said Alley.
"While crime pays it will continue to be committed. Despite the extensive information
relating to the 'total systems failure' of the concession system documented in the
ADB concession review, not one single concession company has yet suffered the consequences
of their mismanagement or illegal activities. This has got to change."
On June 3 a Forest Crime Monitoring Unit (FCMU) team visited the GAT concession and
confirmed findings of an aerial survey showing that GAT was illegally logging in
the Samling concession.
The GAT concession manager, Steve Leang Than, admitted to the
team that GAT had collected the 777 logs without permits to cut, collect, or transport
Leang Than acknowledged that GAT had taken logs from the Samling concession's Coupe
Three, and had no permission from Samling to build a forward logging camp there.
He also admitted that GAT had continued to bulldoze roads into the Central Cardamoms
until May 30 - a month after DFW Director Ty Sokhun ordered them to halt construction.
The DFW prepared a case against GAT which was then handed over to provincial forestry
officials. However, the DFW's head office in Phnom Penh did not know the June 20
trial took place in Koh Kong until after it was all over.
A provincial Legislation and Litigation official - with no legal training - presented
the DFW's case in the Koh Kong court. Not only did the official fail to utilize available
video evidence, he omitted any mention of GAT's illegal logging in the Samling timber
The Koh Kong court found GAT guilty of the illegal cutting and transportion of the
777 logs but allowed the company to keep the logs in return for paying the official
Government royalty rate of $54 per cubic meter.
Global Witness believes the logs should have been confiscated and fines of between
two and three times the value of the logs levied against GAT.
Disagreeing with the court decision, the DFW lodged the appeal which was subsequently
lost on Dec 18.
Alley said Global Witness will recommend that the Government appeal the latest decision
to the High Court.
"True reform will only succeed when the logging companies learn that illegal
logging is going to cost them their concessions," he said.