The National Committee for Forest Crime Prevention yesterday said it may transfer the case of well-known timber tycoon Soeng Sam Ol to Phnom Penh Municipal Court due to potential conflict of interest between officials.
Mr Sam Ol and his two managers were arrested on Tuesday by the joint-task force for allegedly operating an illegal logging operation in Mondulkiri province. The three were questioned by the provincial court yesterday.
On Wednesday, the NCFCP used TNT to destroy four out of 48 trucks seized following Mr Sam Ol’s arrest.
Colonel Phauk Chanthy, deputy commander of the provincial military police, yesterday said Mr Sam Ol was sent to court after being detained by military police for two days.
“We sent tycoon Soeng Sam Ol and his managers to the provincial court this [yesterday] afternoon after two days of questioning at the Mondulkiri provincial military police headquarters,” Col Chanthy said. “We sent three of them to court, Sam Ol’s driver was not involved – he’s just a driver. We consider the driver a witness.”
Col Chanthy noted that no charges have been laid against Mr Sam Ol and the two managers, as of yesterday.
NCFCP spokesman Brigadier General Eng Hy said the case could be handled by Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
“The case of tycoon Soeng Sam Ol and the two accomplices may be transferred to Phnom Penh Municipal Court,” Brig Gen Hy said.
According to a senior National Military Police officer and NCFCP member who refused to be named, the possible transfer is considered in order to avoid conflict of interest between the suspects and provincial authorities who may interfere in the case.
NCFCP chairman General Sao Sokha on Wednesday said anyone interfering with the case will face legal action equivalent to those suspected of committing forestry crimes.
Kuch Kimlong, deputy prosecutor and spokesman for Phnom Penh Municipal Court, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Eang Mengly, provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, yesterday said he observed the case closely and hoped that other suspects will be brought in.
“I welcome the enforcement of the law by the NCFCP and I hope those who were involved will be punished,” Mr Mengly said. “I think this action is a good example because I have never seen them crack down on large-scale illegal logging like this before.”
Previously, Mr Mengly alleged that forestry crimes in Mondulkiri’s Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary were carried out by Mr Sam Ol and that the profits were laundered through Dai Than Company, Mr Sam Ol’s rubber plantation.
In October 2017, Mr Sam Ol was summoned by the Mondulkiri provincial court to testify after the NCFCP seized 60,000 cubic metres of timber in Keo Seima district earlier that year.
At the time, Mr Sam Ol denied that he bought the timber from illegal traders. He also denied exporting illegal timber to Vietnam.