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More Mondulkiri officials scrutinised over alleged ties to timber trade

Officials seize a car loaded with luxury timber yesterday on its way to Pailin from the Samlot protected area.
Officials seize a car loaded with luxury timber yesterday on its way to Pailin from the Samlot protected area. Photo supplied

More Mondulkiri officials scrutinised over alleged ties to timber trade

Mondulkiri authorities are investigating the potential involvement of a policeman and soldier in smuggling timber to Vietnam, the latest of several similar allegations involving officials to surface in the border province.

The new allegations concern the acting police chief of the Kbal Domrei border post, Mun Phiny, and Keo Sopheak, commander of Platoon 1, which is stationed nearby in Koh Nhek district’s Sre Huy commune.

Mondulkiri Provincial Environment Department Director Keo Sopheak said suspicions had arisen about whether Vietnamese loggers had been allowed to utilise the border post as a smuggling corridor following the seizure of 15 logs in the nearby Sre Pok Wildlife Sanctuary.

He said the 15 logs appeared to be part of a larger haul, two truckloads of which had already returned to Vietnam via the crossing. “Both the policeman and the soldier have been suspended from their workplace, and more mistakes might be discovered while the court is working on this case,” he said.

Mondulkiri Provincial Governor Svay Sam Eang said he had ordered the pair’s commanders to investigate the case and to further probe whether more officers stationed along the border are involved in timber trading. “If the investigation shows they committed a mistake, we will punish them based on the law and their unit’s regulations,” he said.

Provincial Police Chief Ouk Samnang said he had interrogated the suspects. He said Phiny, the border policeman, appeared to have colluded to allow loggers access to the crossing, and vowed to take “action”.

Phiny and Platoon 1 Commander Sopheak, however, have not been arrested. Both were unreachable yesterday.

The new case follows a high-level investigation started earlier this year into several high-ranking Mondulkiri officials accused of pocketing huge bribes from a timber trader.

That case is awaiting a hearing at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, but at least one of the higher-ranking suspects, a provincial military commander, has been excused after receiving “education” about his “mistakes”.

Several others have simply been transferred.Meanwhile, in a separate case yesterday, rangers in Battambang province’s Samlot district seized a car carrying illegal rosewood timber on its way to a meeting with traders in nearby Pailin province. The driver, however, later escaped.

Battambang Provincial Environment Department Deputy Director Em Vichet said officials would use the vehicle’s registration plates to track the suspect.

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