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Wutty’s past still in dispute

Environmental activist Chut Wutty stands next to a stash of burning lumber in Prey Lang forest
Environmental activist Chut Wutty stands next to a stash of burning lumber in Prey Lang forest in early 2012. MATHIEU YOUNG

Wutty’s past still in dispute

Local newspaper Deum Ampil has published a letter from the NGO Conservation International that it claims proves slain environmental activist Chut Wutty took bribes from illegal mreas prov tree loggers in the Central Cardamoms more than a decade ago.

The January 2003 letter, written by CI's then-country director David Mead, suspended Wutty from work with CI as it investigated allegations he had taken payments from the illegal industry.

Mreas prov can be processed into the drug precursor safrole.

But Jake Brunner, a former CI staffer copied on the letter, said that while he was out of the country at the time, the issue between Mead and Wutty had to do with “advances he had received from CI” and accounting procedures.

“That was the issue, I think, not corruption,” Brunner said.He added that the Forestry Administration had engaged in an “aggressive campaign” to get Wutty out of the Central Cardamom Protected Forest program.

“I think the letter David wrote was a pro forma kind of defence just to show that CI took [their allegations] seriously and weren’t dismissing the accusations because David and Wutty were close.”

Wutty was shot dead in 2012 while documenting illegal logging.

Marcus Hardtke, a German conservationist who worked in the area at the time, and later worked with Wutty, said that the CI investigation ended up finding no evidence of bribe-taking on Wutty’s behalf.

The FA "really wanted to get rid of him because he was disturbing their business,” he said.

FA chief Chheng Kimsun said he was too busy to speak yesterday.

Conservation International country director Seng Bunra said that the group could not release details about Wutty’s time there because of company policy.

“Our official position is that we don’t have anything to add but that we’re sad that the focus of this has been to defame someone who was doing good work when he passed away and we are sure his family is suffering greatly.”

Deum Ampil’s claims are the latest to be made against Wutty since he was praised by US President Barack Obama last month. Government spokesman Phay Siphan recently called him a “great log trader”.

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