Forestry officials arrested four men and confiscated two pickup trucks containing illegally logged luxury timber en route to Vietnam on Sunday in Ratanakkiri’s O’Yadav district before releasing both the men and the timber after fining them thousands of dollars, officers and a rights group representative said yesterday.
Ten trucks, each loaded with about 20 cubic metres of luxury timber logged in Veun Sai district, were spotted in transit by authorities.
However, only two vehicles were stopped in Banlung district, said Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.
“Each truck contained about two cubic metres [of luxury wood] and if the provincial police had joined the crackdown all 10 vehicles would have been captured instead of two,” Thy said.
Afterwards, however, the four men were released along with their vehicles by provincial forestry administration officials after agreeing to pay $5,000 as “punishment”, according to Phan Phoeun, provincial deputy chief of the administration.
Thy, from Adhoc, said that the release of the men violated Article 98 of Cambodia’s Law on Forestry.
If the suspects had been tried and found guilty, they would have faced up to five years in prison as well as fines of up to 100 million riel (about $25,000) each.
“Releases like this make forest crimes happen more and more,” Thy said, adding that police officers and timber smugglers frequently work in tandem during illegal smuggling operations.