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Publisher accused of fraud and extortion

Publisher accused of fraud and extortion

THE publisher of a monthly newspaper in Kampong Thom province has been arrested and sent to court on suspicion of using an illegal press licence plate, and police have also accused him of illegally trying to extort money from wood vendors.

Horn Dara Huol was arrested this week and sent to the provincial court, said deputy provincial prosecutor Seng Meng Sruong. The 47-year-old publishes the monthly Chhanteak Kuon newspaper.

Seng Meng Sruong said Horn Dara Huol was charged with using a press licence plate that had not been registered with the Interior Ministry, and that he faced between two and five years in prison and a fine of up to 10 million riels (US$2,383) if convicted.

Khuon Bunhuor, the military police chief in Baray District, said police had been investigating Horn Dara Huol for some time, and accused the publisher of setting up illegal checkpoints where he would stop wood vendors and demand money. He said Horn Dara Huol told the vendors that he would write damning stories about them if they did not pay.

He said the checkpoints had been deliberately placed in front of those set up by police.

“We arrested him after he positioned his checkpoint in front of us many times,” he said. “This is illegal under the law.”

In January, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a public call for officials to crack down on illegal logging, and attention to the issue increased when he removed Ty Sokun from his post as director of the Forestry Administration in April.

Meanwhile, a spate of extortion complaints have been filed against journalists in provinces where illegal logging reportedly occurs.

In April, for instance, three journalists in Kampong Cham province were accused of extorting money from wood vendor Mey Kim Huon, who said they threatened to publish stories alleging that she was selling illegal wood unless she paid them US$300.

Observers have been split on whether the complaints are attempts to intimidate reporters – thereby discouraging them from covering a sensitive issue that merits investigation – or reporters are guilty of attempting to exploit the government’s crackdown for easy money.

Tel Piseth, a reporter for Rasmey Kampuchea and a member of the Cambodian Club of Journalists, said yesterday that extortion attempts harm the credibility of journalists.

“We should ask them to get the information, and find any sources who can talk about the case for balance, and then we can produce a story,” he said.

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