Tycoon Soeng Sam Ol, the owner of the Master K Sun company, two supervisors and a driver were arrested on Tuesday for illegal logging in a crackdown in Mondulkiri province which was led by Commander Sao Sokha, the chief of the National Military Police.
More than 40 vehicles transporting illegal timber were seized and are set to be torched, National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said.
It is not the first time Sam Ol, who holds the honorific of oknha, has been implicated in illegal logging.
Hy told The Post on Tuesday that National Committee for Prevention and Crackdown on National Resources officials arrested Sam Ol and seized the vehicles.
“Those arrested are still being questioned in accordance with the law. We are searching for the others involved,” Hy said.
Vehicles used in the crime were likely hidden in the forest and were actively being searched for.
Hy said: “Vehicles that authorities find in the forest will be destroyed there. I would like to appeal to all those involved in forestry crime to withdraw immediately or face legal action.”
Hem Bonarel, who commands the Mondulkiri provincial Military Police, said he led 35 officers in a joint operation with the National Committee for Prevention and Crackdown on National Resources.
“We have not left the forest [as of 5pm Tuesday] as we are still searching for evidence and collecting vehicles. I cannot say any more than this.”
Pen Bonna, senior land and natural resources officer for rights group Adhoc, who previously filed more than 10 lawsuits against local authorities with regard to forestry crimes, welcomed Sam Ol’s arrest.
He said it was a positive sign that those who destroyed the forest were being cracked down on.
“We hope that other oknha involved in forestry crimes will be arrested like Sam Ol. This paves the way for investigations into other oknha. We saw that there were many [media] reports with regard to Sam Ol committing forestry crimes for many years, so he could not have been acting alone. He must have paid bribes to the relevant officials, including those at the local level."
“Everything results from systematic corruption. It is not only at the provincial level but also at the national level,” Bunna claimed.
Sam Ol was summoned by Mondulkiri Provincial Court Judge Suy Sophea to appear in October 2017 “to clarify on the logging and transporting of many types of luxury timber in Mondulkiri province’s Keo Seyma district on January 16, 2016”.
He denied any involvement with the alleged crime, which a Sokha-led committee had discovered and filed the court complaint over.
Kreung Tola, a Mondulkiri province forest activist, said Sam Ol’s company transported timber to be sent for sale in Vietnam.
“He mostly cuts down trees in the Phnom Prich wildlife sanctuary and other areas. He has many means of transport, including vehicles, makeshift tractors and container trucks, to take the illegal timber to Vietnam,” Tola said.
On the Sunday before Sam Ol’s arrest, Hy, the National Military Police spokesman, announced that strict legal action would be taken against individuals and companies involved in forestry crimes.
A request would be made to the authorities to have all vehicles, such as trucks, makeshift tractors and motorcycles, involved with such crimes destroyed on the spot.
Early this month Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery Veng Sakhon sent a letter to Sao Sokha that his ministry had received information regarding illegal logging in the Kingdom’s Northeast and would investigate, noting that forest crimes seemed to be on the rise.