A senior Virak Chey National Park official on Monday said the 12 Vietnamese nationals being held in pre-trial detention for allegedly crossing the border illegally into Ratanakkiri province and clearing land are suspected of having links to a Cambodian company.
Sou Khon, Virak Chey National Park deputy head, told The Post on Monday that the men came to clear an economic land concession in the province’s Taveng district that was granted to Cambodian company Noupheap Sophy Investment Co Ltd.
“We don’t know for sure whether they got into Cambodian territory with the help of Noupheap Sophy Investment company or not, but the land clearing activities spilled into the area under the management of Virak Chey National Park,” he said.
On Sunday, Investigating Judge Leng Vannarith charged the men with “crossing the border without legal permission” according to Article 29 of the Law on Immigration and “importing machinery for illegal forest clearing and taking forest land as personal property” under articles 56, 58 and 62 of the Law on Natural Protected Areas.
Ratanakkiri provincial court is now investigating how the men crossed into Cambodia and managed to bring six pieces of machinery with them, provincial court spokesperson Keo Piseth said on Monday.
“As of now, the 12 Vietnamese suspects, along with two counterparts who escaped, are charged with crossing the border illegally and illegally clearing forest land with the intention to take it as personal property,” Piseth said.
Last Tuesday, Ratanakkiri Military Police arrested the Vietnamese nationals who were illegally clearing forest land in Taveng district’s Taveng Loeu commune.
Following their arrest, authorities confiscated documents from the men naming Sek Vireak, 43, a representative of Noupheap Sophy Investment Co Ltd.
The documents showed that the company had rented the six pieces of machinery to a Vietnamese company named Manh Le Gia – represented by Nguyen Luong Lac – to level the land concession in order to grow crops.
Police also found an additional document showing that Vireak rented the land in question to a Vietnamese national named Vo Nguyen Sa for $70 per hectare per year.
Noupheap Sophy Investment Co Ltd received the 70-year land concession – covering 9,000ha in Ratanakkiri’s Taveng and Andong Meas districts – in 2011 for the purposes of investing in agro-industry crops such as rubber and cashew nuts.
However, the government reduced the concession period to 50 years in 2015.
Vireak’s actions are considered a “breach of the contract” held between his company and the government, said Soy Sona, the provincial director of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Vireak could not be reached for comment on Monday.