The director of Kampong Speu’s protected Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary and his predecessor have been charged with illegally clearing forest in a case dating back to 2013, and have been summoned to court for questioning.
Khorn Sokhun, director of the Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary, and Chhun Chhie Heng, who is now office chief at the provincial Environment Department, are required to appear at the Kampong Speu Provincial Court on Wednesday or face arrest.
The pair is charged with “malicious denunciation and forestland clearing, and grabbing [land] for private ownership”, with the crimes having been committed in April 2013, according to the summons.
The charges stem from a lawsuit filed in 2013 by Chea Hean, director of the Natural Resource and Wildlife Preservation Organization, who says he was falsely accused in 2010 of having cleared 100 hectares of forestland inside the sanctuary. In fact, he alleges, the land was cleared by Sokhun and Chhie Heng.
“They made up [information] that 100 hectares of land belonged to me,” he said.
Hean spent more than two years in pre-trial detention before he was found guilty on one of four charges he faced. He was finally released in 2013 after winning his appeal. Soon afterwards, he filed a lawsuit against 241 officials – including Sokhun and Chhie Heng – and villagers allegedly involved in illegal deforestation.
Hean’s countersuit stalled but his lawyer in 2016 urged the court to move forward with the case, which has finally resulted in the charges against Sokhun and Chhie Heng.
Chhie Heng declined to comment and Sokhun could not be reached.
They are being charged under articles 311 and 312 of the Criminal Code and articles 56 and 62 of the Law on Protected Areas. The summons, dated March 21, was signed by Investigating Judge Toung Putheara, who declined to comment.