T ENG Boonma, a prominent Cambodian businessman close to Hun Sen, acquired over 400,000
hectares of forest concessions from the Cambodian government in August, according
to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Although the contract was signed Aug 8, Undersecretary of State for the Ministry
of Agriculture Chan Tong Yves said that the Thai Boon Roong Company had been promised
the deal in January. He was unable to provide the financial details of the contract.
Boonma, president of the Phnom Penh Chamber of Commerce, is reputedly Cambodia's
wealthiest man. He has been accused of drugs trafficking by US officials, which he
denies, and has admitted providing $1 million to Hun Sen after the July fighting.
The Prime Ministers jointly signed a letter of agreement in January to allow Teng
Boonma's Thai Boon Roong Company to acquire concessions on 4,167,000 hectares of
forest in Mondolkiri and Kratie. Hun Sen signed the letter Jan 16 and then-First
Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh signed it Jan 29, according to a Feb 25 letter to
the Minister of Agriculture from the Council of Ministers.
Undersecretary of State for Agriculture Chhan Sophan said he was puzzled by the Thai
Boon Roong contract, as an Indonesian company, the Macro-Panin group, holds some
parts of the concession areas under an earlier deal. "As I know, some of this
forest area belongs to the Panin company."
Macro-Panin is still doing business in the area, as their contract does not expire
until December, Chhan Sophan added.
But Cambodia's forestry director claimed that Macro-Panin had lost its concession
because it has not fulfilled its obligations, having failed to start logging work,
in its contract.
"We have to withdraw the land from the companies who have not operated their
businesses and give the land to the new companies who have the money to do it,"
Or Soeun said.
The Agriculture Ministry is verifying that the licensed companies are in fact logging
the land, and is revoking concessions from companies who sell licenses to others,
"So far, there were around 25 companies who applied for land concessions, but
most of the companies disappeared after they got licenses. They have no money to
operate the business, so they try to sell the license to another company and get
the benefits," Or Soeun said.