The infamous timber trader known as Grandma Mai was reportedly released and has gone back to her business of smuggling timber to Vietnam, according to a local media report.
Vietnamese timber trader Nguyen Thimai, 39, has been previously arrested on multiple occasions, with the last time occurring in July 2017 in Kampong Thom province where she was sent to the provincial court for exporting timber to Vietnam.
Ms Thimai was charged by prosecutors at Kampong Thom Provincial Court with procuring and transporting luxury timber without authorisation and forging public documents, a charge punishable with up to five years in prison.
The local media report quoted an anonymous official as saying that she was still continuing to transport timber to Vietnam and had been given a green light by authorities in charge. Ms Thimai’s release was confirmed by a former provincial police officer and a court official yesterday.
Ke Khannara, former deputy provincial police chief, confirmed that Ms Thimai was released recently although he did not know the exact date.
“I heard from my subordinates that she was already released, but this case is based on the secrecy of the court and because I am retired, I don’t want to inquire further,” he said.
“However, in this case, she does not deserve to be released yet because she was charged with two offences, first for faking license plates and second, for the illegal transport of timber,” Mr Khannara added.
“With these two charges, the punishment is not small and her release should not be that soon according to the law. However, we don’t know what the judge and prosecutor based it on.”
Kampong Thom Provincial Court officials confirmed the release of Grandma Mai, but said the case was out of their hands and declined further comment.
Say Nora, spokesman for the provincial court, said that if she needs to be arrested again, evidence must be presented because she already served time for previous offences.
“I don’t know what to say about this case. Judge Seng Bunna was the one who heard the case and it was a long time ago. Regarding her continued business, we don’t know what to do because it is a new offence. If it’s a new offence, we need to find new evidence and catch her red-handed again,” he said.
“The law does not allow us to take action on her for what she did. She already served the sentence. We can only arrest her again with new evidence and new allegations,” Mr Nora added.
“We need to investigate the case regarding when and where she committed the crime, for example, in Oddar Meanchey province, so Oddar Meanchey authorities need to work on that.”
Mr Nora said he did not know how long Ms Thimai served in prison and referred questions to Judge Bunna and deputy prosecutor Doung Saron, who attended the final hearing.
Judge Bunna could not be reached for comment while Mr Saron referred questions to chief prosecutor Ith Sothea, who only said the case was out of his hands.
The local media further reported that sawmills belonging to Grandma Mai were back in operation on March 22 in Trapaing Prey commune in Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district.
Trapaing Prey commune police chief Hing Thoeng said that he saw the sawmills in operation, but could not be sure if they belonged to her.
“I heard that she was arrested several times and I saw her off and on in the commune,” he said. “Regarding the sawmills, there are some of them in the commune but on a small scale, but I don’t know if they are hers.”
Oddar Meanchey Provincial Court spokesman Hang Hidra said that if Ms Thimai was truly continuing her timber smuggling, the forestry administration needed to cooperate with the court prosecutor to investigate the case. “They need to cooperate with the prosecutor and we will join the investigation,” he said.