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Logging busts persist as tycoon implicated

An official poses with wood seized in Kampong Speu this week
An official poses with wood seized in Kampong Speu this week.

Logging busts persist as tycoon implicated

Two separate timber busts in recent days netted some 300 pieces of illegally transported wood in Stung Treng belonging to a prominent businessman, and several hidden timber stockpiles at a military officer’s Kampong Speu lumberyard.

In the first case, Forestry Administration officers and anti-economic crime police from the Interior Ministry stopped two trucks – one Friday and another Sunday – belonging to Thy Rithasey’s Pich Rithasey Co on National Road 7 on suspicion of carrying an “irregular” load of shredded timber, according to a letter from the FA’s Stung Treng office issued on Tuesday.

After the trucks were impounded, inspectors discovered they were carrying 317 more pieces of top grade timber than their 13,370-piece limit, according to the document.

Arrested and questioned, drivers Chin Bunthorng and Chin Sokun told officers the wood was being taken from Pich Rithasey’s sawmill in Ratanakkiri to a depot in Svay Rieng.

Neither Thy Rithsay nor the company, which faces legal action, according to the letter, could be reached yesterday. Via local outlet Fresh News, however, the company claimed it had paid the fine for carrying the extra load, a mistake they attributed to measuring techniques that left planks 30 centimetres longer to prevent damage.

Ho Sam Ol, Stung Treng coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the case was far from unique. “All loads of [tycoons] and some companies always exceed the legal permit,” he said.

Separately, national and military police officers on Tuesday descended on a timber depot in Kampong Speu’s Oral district belonging to well-known timber trader Choeung Theng, whose overloaded truck damaged a Kampot bridge in June.

Officers discovered at least eight stockpiles of wood at the Sangke Satob commune site, including some hidden in ponds and vans, according to the Military Police Facebook page. Gendarmerie spokesman Eng Hy yesterday said officers were still assessing the size and source of the haul.

Chea Hean, director of NGO the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organization, estimated the stockpiles amounted to about 50 cubic metres of luxury wood.

He alleged Theng – a military commander connected to Region 3, who was unreachable yesterday – had logged forests in Koh Kong, Pursat and Kampong Speu for a decade.

In October, Environment Minister Say Sam Al declared any wood leaving Pursat, Kampong Speu, Kampong Chhnang or Koh Kong automatically illegal, as no company was licensed to clear the regions’ forests.

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