Police on Monday arrested three men accused of extorting illegal loggers in Pursat province while trying to pass themselves off as NGO workers.
Seven complaints were lodged against the alleged extortionists, alerting police to their activities.
Krakor district police chief Em Ron said that suspects Horn Heng, 47, and Heng Hong, 43, claimed to be deputy technical directors of an apparently spurious organisation called Protected Forest and Wildlife, while Ly Long, 23, was their driver.
“We received one complaint from one person that they had extorted her to pay 200,000 riel [about $50] but she begged to pay only 100,000 riel,” Ron said.
The case is just the latest example of a Cambodian phenomenon in which extortionists pose as “journalists” or “environmentalists” in order to track down illegal loggers and demand bribes in exchange for their silence.
An additional six complaints had been filed in Kampong Chhnang, where the group allegedly demanded between 10,000 riel ($2.50) and 300,000 riel ($75) at a time.
Ron said the woman who filed the Pursat complaint would not be pursued for illegal logging as she was merely transporting wood to build a house.
Lor Reaksmey, spokesperson for the Agriculture Ministry, said the legality of such timber “depends on where the wood comes from”.
“If it comes from a protected area, it is illegal,” he said, but hinted that people carrying small amounts of wood for cooking was not.