The illegal filling of a mangrove forest in Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary is being investigated, Koh Kong provincial authorities said yesterday, though officials say they still don’t know who is behind the crime.

Sok Sothy, deputy provincial governor, said the sand dredging and filling in of the area are both illegal, as neither the Ministry of Mines and Energy nor the Ministry of Environment have given out permits for such activity in the area.

“All their activities have violated the law,” he said.

The 2 hectares filled in are part of a more than 1,000-hectare “community zone” – a protected area where residents can still live and cultivate the land – inside the wildlife sanctuary.

Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the co-founder of NGO Mother Nature, said the practice of filling in mangrove forests to sell them to the highest bidder has been taking place for years.

“However, what makes this latest scam particularly remarkable is the fact that it is taking place inside the legally protected Pram Krosao[p] Wildlife Sanctuary,” he said.

Gonzalez-Davidson scoffed at the idea the authorities were unaware of the perpetrator, saying “the whole of Koh Kong keeps mentioning” to the NGO the name of the chairman of a property investment company as being behind the operation.

The company could not be reached, and Sothy dismissed the accusation as a “rumour”.

Sok Sokhom, director of the Cambodia National Research Organization, said he is investigating this case, and plans to look into seven more related to the grabbing of mangrove land in Koh Kong.

Additional reporting by Yesenia Amaro