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Ministry OKs action against officials

Authorities seize illegal timber hauled by Vietnamese nationals in Mondulkiri province last month. The case prompted an investigation, with the Ministry of Interior agreeing to allow charges against officials implicated in aiding the illegal timber trade. Photo supplied
Authorities seize illegal timber hauled by Vietnamese nationals in Mondulkiri province last month. The case prompted an investigation, with the Ministry of Interior agreeing to allow charges against officials implicated in aiding the illegal timber trade. Photo supplied

Ministry OKs action against officials

Interior Minister Sar Kheng gave his approval for court charges and administrative punishments to be brought against National Police officials who allegedly colluded with Vietnamese timber smugglers in Mondulkiri province, an Interior Ministry spokesman confirmed yesterday.

In a report signed off on by National Police chief Neth Savoeun two weeks ago, but made public on Thursday, officials from the National Police, the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, the Forestry Administration and the military police were implicated in abetting illegal timber exports to Vietnam and taking bribes totalling $170,000.

The report requests that charges be brought against two National Police officials – Chum Rattanak and Leang Phearoth – as well as administrative action, which can include reassignment or “education”, against nine others.

In an interview yesterday, ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that the interior minister “totally agreed and replied to what the National Police had requested”.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith could not be reached to confirm whether any action has already been taken, although Long Hokmeng, the Mondulkiri provincial prosecutor, yesterday said he had not received the report.

The investigation – which followed the seizure of 145 logs and the arrest of seven Vietnamese nationals in February – singled out Rattanak and Phearoth, along with RCAF border post commander Tea Khaimeng, RCAF officer Em Songhour and a Vietnamese trader named Uk Nhor as the “masterminds” of the operation.

Action against officials from bodies other than the National Police is up to their respective administrations.

Yesterday, Ministry of Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat and military police spokesman Eng Hy both said they had not yet seen the report, and declined to comment further.

The report shows that some $85,000 in bribes received by Rattanak was shared with provincial military police commander Sak Sarang and his brother Sak Sarun, the Keo Seima district military police commander.

Activists have long railed against the government for the seeming impunity of high-level officials accused of involvement in the illegal timber trade, and have expressed scepticism of the effectiveness of an anti-logging task force established last year.

In an email yesterday, Goldman-prize winning environmentalist Ouch Leng emphasised that the alleged involvement of a number of senior officials revealed by last week’s letter was indicative of a systemic problem.

“[The] timber business is a systematic and professional corruption from all levels of armed forces and high ranking governmental officials,” he wrote.

Additional reporting by Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon

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