The Mondulkiri Provincial Court on Sunday decided to detain Te Kim San, the former head of the mining community in Keo Seima district’s Chung Phlas commune, on charges of collecting forest by-products and building an illegal timber processing facility.
This follows his arrest on Friday on suspicion of secretly storing 600 luxury logs at his mining workshop.
Provincial court spokesman Meas Bros told The Post on Sunday that a provincial court judge had decided to detain Kim San following nearly three hours of questioning.
“The court charged him under Articles 97 and 98 of the Law on Forestry,” he said.
Mondulkiri provincial Military Police commander Hem Bonarel said Kim San was detained by police from the National Committee for Prevention and Crackdown on Natural Resources Crimes.
“The suspect was sent by our police to the provincial Department of Environment for questioning and to discover who else was involved. After questioning, we sent him to the provincial court on Sunday afternoon,” he said.
Provincial Department of Environment director Keo Sopheak confirmed that specialist police had completed questioning Kim San and sent him to the provincial court.
He said the timber impounded as evidence was being transported to the provincial department headquarters to be measured.
“According to the suspect’s confession, he had no accomplices. He admitted he had stored the timber at the former mine, but said he had not yet made plans to process or transport it to sell at the market.
“The police inspected the mining pits, but there was no evidence of illegal activity by the community. Problems with the mining pits are not within my jurisdiction, but I saw the police filling the pits with soil,” Sopheak said.
Provincial Department of Mines and Energy director San Darith said the community’s mining operation in Chung Phlas commune had been shut down two years ago.
“The mining community in Chung Phlas commune is no longer active and the local authorities have monitored it regularly. Te Kim San was arrested, but forestry crimes are not within my jurisdiction,” he said.
Eang Mengly, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that he supported the authorities enforcing the law in this case but urged them to establish who else was involved.
“Many cubic metres of wood are secretly being felled, and it couldn’t happen without the involvement of other people. Law enforcement officials have to take tougher measures against anyone who commits offences. Wrongdoers should be punished equally whether they are rich or poor.
“I support this law enforcement because, in the past, well-connected people have processed paperwork to release criminals. So they’re not afraid of the law,” he said.
Article 97 of the Law on Forestry mentions 10 crimes, including “establishing a processing facility for forestry products that lead to the destruction of forest or forest ecology” and “destroying, hiding, selling or stealing forest evidence”.
Convicted offenders are to be punished under Class I forestry offences and face five to 10 years in prison, confiscation of all evidence as state property and revocation of applicable agreements, licenses or permits.
There are 12 offences listed under Article 98, including “use of machinery or vehicles with the purpose of harvesting forest products or by-products without a permit or tags”.
The Class I forestry offences carry a one- to five-year prison sentences and/or court fines of 10 million to 100 million riel ($2,500 to $25,000), and confiscation of all evidence as state property.