At least 70 timber smugglers transporting some 200 cubic metres of illegal first- and second-grade wood were stopped by authorities in the Phnom O’ral Wildlife Sanctuary over the weekend, before being allowed to leave without charges and still in possession of the illegal timber.
“The haulers were ordered to sign contracts, promising to stop the illegal timber hauling,” said Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organisation, who was present at the bust.
“We did not confiscate any evidence because we were afraid that they would resist,” Hean said, adding that the timber, logged in the protected Cardamom forest, was not seized.
Hean also claimed the smugglers admitted to paying bribes at multiple checkpoints along the route, paying between 5,000 and 15,000 riel ($1.25 and $3.75) per vehicle at each stop. He also alleged that some rangers unsuccessfully attempted to tip off the smugglers, and vowed to investigate the rangers’ complicity.
“The rangers at outposts did not intercept the criminals because they received money,” Hean said.
Nov Nak, deputy director of the provincial environmental department said none of the transporters he questioned mentioned bribes or collusion.
“They [the rangers] worked with us, so we could crack down. We are the same people,” he said.
Despite Nak’s denial, Post reporters witnessed timber haulers paying bribes to officials along the same route in O’ral district in February.