Vehicles used in the alleged illegal logging that led to the arrest of Soeng Sam Ol were blown up on Wednesday, as the tycoon and three alleged accomplices were sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court by National Military Police.
National Committee for Prevention and Crackdown on National Resources chief Sao Sokha ordered the destruction of four out of more than 40 vehicles left at the scene as it had proven difficult to remove them from the thick forest, Fresh News reported.
Sokha, who is also National Military Police Commander, told The Post that the case is being worked on in accordance with the law.
“We are following the law. Forestry crimes are criminal cases, so any person committing them faces investigation and legal procedure,” Sokha said.
Committee spokesman Eng Hy told The Post that work on the case was ongoing. He declined to comment further but told Fresh News that TNT had been used to blow up the vehicles while the others would be destroyed later.
To preserve natural resources, the committee will take firm legal action against any individual or companies engaged in forestry crimes, Hy said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Kuch Kimlong said that the court was yet to receive the suspects who were still in military police custody.
Environmental activists have expressed concern over the case. They said they feared the suspects could be released as Sam Ol had previously been summoned to court but had never been prosecuted.
Heng Sros, an activist who investigates forest crimes in northern Cambodia with Goldman Environmental Prize-winning activist Ouch Leng, said he did not believe the court would prosecute Sam Ol.
He said Sam Ol, who holds the honorific of oknha, had accelerated logging without interference from the authorities despite being questioned over forestry crimes.
“The local authorities clearly know about Sam Ol’s crimes, but they have colluded with each other. Arrest this oknha and all others engaged in illegal logging,” Sros urged.
Kroeung Tola, a Mondulkiri province forest activist, said that in addition to small-scale operations, Sam Ol was one of three oknhas who traded in timber.
The forests at Srek Pok and Phnom Prich wildlife sanctuaries were the most logged, he said. “Bad people always use economic land concessions as a pretext to log. After the forest has been entirely logged, they return the land to the state,” he said.
He said he found it strange that no photos of Sam Ol’s arrest had been made public. “I don’t think Oknha Sam Ol will be prosecuted,” he said.
Mondulkiri provincial governor Svay Sam Eang could not be reached for comment.
Sam Ol was summoned for questioning by the Mondulkiri court in October 2017 over illegal logging and the transportation of luxury timber in the province’s Keo Seima district. He denied all the allegations.