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NGO staffer in court for illicit timber ‘extortion’

Officials inspect timber after a bust conducted in Kampong Thom province. Photo supplied
Officials inspect timber after a bust conducted in Kampong Thom province. Photo supplied

NGO staffer in court for illicit timber ‘extortion’

Kampong Thom police yesterday sent an NGO staffer to provincial court for allegedly extorting money from people transporting illegal timber.

The suspect, Sorn Savuth, was arrested on Saturday for allegedly extorting 5,000 to 10,000 riel, or about $1.25 to $2.50, from illegal timber transporters.

Hang Thol, Kampong Thom Provincial Military Police chief, said his officials were just following orders.

“Our officials followed the order of the Kampong Thom Provincial Court prosecutor based on the people’s complaint,” he said, adding the suspect was sued by the timber transporters who he allegedly extorted.

Provincial prosecutors could not be reached for comment on whether the court will take action against those who submitted the complaint.

Touch Nara, director of Forest Animal and Environment Prevention Organization, confirmed that Savuth, 42, was his employee, but said the money had been given to him willingly.

“For this, in the form of the law, he should have not been arrested since it is not a red-handed case,” he said. “I have [reached out] to the prosecutor already, and he said to let him check the documents first, so we will wait for future measures from the court.”

He said his organisation had permission from the Ministry of Interior to set up checkpoints to report crimes to police.

Nara added that under the law, the person giving the bribe and the one receiving it face punishment.

“Why is the bribe-taker guilty and the bribe-giver is not?” he asked. “Why is the law being enforced as only one-sided?”

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