Authorities from the government’s new anti-logging task force swooped into Stung Treng yesterday and inspected timber stockpiles belonging to the Kingdom’s most prominent logging magnate, Try Pheap, who has been accused of reaping immense profits from the clear-cutting of Cambodian forests for years.
In a video uploaded to local media, Ieng Vandy, the Stung Treng military police commander, questioned representatives of a vast, open-air locale filled with felled timber.
“We need to check whether the wood is legal or not, and where it comes from,” he said.
“Please, reporters help [show us] where there is timber, help provide information and cooperate with us, and I will go there immediately.”
Sorn Nimol, Stung Treng deputy provincial police chief, confirmed that authorities had visited timber stockpiles owned by Pheap and other businessmen in the districts of Sesan and Siem Pang and in Stung Treng city.
“[The raids] were not in a wildlife sanctuary but in locations where businessmen cut down the forest and stored the wood, but we still have no reports [about the raids’ results],” Nimol said.
Nimol added that timber owned by Kith Meng, one of Cambodia’s richest men, was also inspected.
Representatives for Pheap could not be reached. Questioned by a reporter, Meng said he was “overseas” and hung up.
The raids come after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced last week the creation of a commission headed by military police chief Sao Sokha – who has himself been accused of profiting from the timber trade in the past – to crack down on illegal logging, calling out wealthy businessmen Soeng Sam Ol and Lim Bunna for being involved.
Yet despite the flurry of activity yesterday, officials were tight-lipped about results obtained from the inspections of Pheap’s timber, which seem to have focused on checking whether it was legal or not.
Others, including military police spokesman Eng Hy and Environment Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap, claimed to have no knowledge of the raids at all.
The question of what would happen to the timber if it ends up being seized by authorities is particularly salient since Try Pheap has the exclusive right to collect and sell off the Kingdom’s confiscated luxury timber.
Marcus Hardtke, Southeast Asia coordinator for German conservation group ARA, said that investigating timber owned by a man of Try Pheap’s level hinted at the crackdown’s true purpose.
“It could be a shuffle . . . to further monopolise the trade,” he said.
However, the Environment Ministry’s Sopheap defended the task force.
“The government is doing their job,” he said. “The crackdown is for real.”