In the first and only day of her trial yesterday, prominent alleged timber trader Heng Samnieng claimed that Military Police officers had tried to sell off pieces of timber confiscated by authorities in Stung Treng, where she was arrested in October while allegedly attempting to retrieve the seized lumber from a government compound.
Samnieng, also known as “Grandmother Proeung”, appeared at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday morning to face three charges including harvesting timber products without a permit, attempted theft and rebellion against a public official.
The 58-year-old was detained on October 13 last year when she and seven accomplices entered the O Pong Mon Forestry Administration compound in Siem Bok district in the early hours of the morning.
The court heard yesterday that the site housed a stockpile of 1,301 pieces of timber seized from a local rubber plantation the day before.
At the time of the arrest, officials said the wood belonged to Samnieng and that she had tried to retrieve it.
However, giving evidence yesterday, the Stung Treng Provincial Military Police Chief in charge of forest crimes, Klok Seima, said officers “did not find the timber’s owner” during the raid at the plantation.
Yesterday, Samnieng denied she owned the timber, claiming it belonged to a Hanoi-based Vietnamese timber trader named Ta Kva.
“Ta Kva told me to check the timber,” said Samnieng. “There was a Military Police [officer] who called to [ask me to] buy three or four pieces of [the] timber,” she added.
Seima – who denied Samnieng had been in contact with military office officers – said that after the wood was seized, an officer of his notified him that Samnieng had arrived at the Forestry Administration.
“I told him to arrest her on three grounds: She went into state complex at night outside working hours, she came to get the timber seized the day before and she is a well known timber trader in the north-eastern provinces” Seima told the court.
Vong Channa, a Military Police officer on guard duty that night, said Samnieng led a group of seven individuals to the Forestry Administration compound.
“At 2:40am . . . I heard the sound of a car,” Channa said. “Then I saw one [official] talking to a woman; I walked to them and [when] I saw that it was Grandmother Proeung, I called my boss and he told me to arrest her.”
Channa said that when he arrested Proeung, her seven companions charged towards him – some on foot, others in a van – and only dispersed after he fired a warning shot with his pistol.
Pov Piseth, Samnieng’s lawyer, asked the court to drop all charges against his client.
Judge Pich Vicheator will announce the verdict on June 27.