The National Committee for Forest Crime Prevention yesterday arrested well-known timber trader Soeng Sam Ol and confiscated dozens of heavy vehicles and illegal timber following a crackdown on a large-scale illegal logging operation in Mondulkiri province.
NCFCP spokesman Brigadier General Eng Hy yesterday said more than 40 trucks allegedly used to transport illegal timber by Mr Sam Ol were confiscated.
“We arrested four people, including tycoon Soeng Sam Ol,” he said. “We confiscated more than 40 trucks. We will make a request to our superiors to have them destroyed.”
The National Military Police yesterday said in a statement that Mr Sam Ol was arrested along with two managers and a driver.
It said that joint NCFCP forces are also searching for other heavy vehicles suspected to be abandoned within forests in the province.
“Other trucks were hidden by timber traders deep in the forest,” it said. “Our forces are now searching for them.”
“We appeal to other traders who might have been involved to disassociate yourselves,” it added. “If not, you will face legal action.”
According to the statement, the raid was made after timber traders employed by Mr Sam Ol failed to comply with the law, as previously disseminated by the NCFCP.
“Our national committee has found that even after we disseminated laws and conducted crackdowns, trees were still being cut and illegally transported,” it said.
It noted that all companies involved must be punished and that the transportation of illegal timber must be prevented.
According to a 2016 statement by the National Police, Mr Sam Ol was first accused of illegal logging and smuggling forest products to Vietnam through Tboung Khmum province.
He was also called out directly by Prime Minister Hun Sen that same year over illegal logging.
Mr Sam Ol was previously accused of forestry crimes conducted within the Phnom Prich Wildlife Sanctuary in Mondulkiri and laundering its profits through his rubber plantation, Dai Than Company, which received an economic land concession in the area.
In October 2017, Mr Sam Ol was summoned by the provincial court to testify after the NCFCP found and seized 60,000 cubic metres of timber in Keo Seima district earlier that year.
At the time, Mr Sam Ol told local media that his company did not buy timber from illegal traders. He then admitted to committing forestry crimes in the past and pledged never to do it again. He also denied bringing illegal timber to Vietnam.
Morm Vanda, spokesman for the provincial court, yesterday said the suspects have yet to be sent to court, and that they were still in the custody of NCFCP.
“They have not sent the suspects to us for questioning as of today [yesterday] evening,” Mr Vanda said. “As I know, the confiscated trucks are also being kept with the anti-logging task force, waiting to be destroyed.”
Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra yesterday welcomed the action taken by the NCFCP.
“The Environment Ministry wishes to welcome and support the action made by the National Military Police who prevented and cracked down on illegal forestry crimes in a protected area,” Mr Pheaktra said, adding that rangers cooperated with the joint task force to crack down on forestry crimes.
“Ministry officials, especially rangers who patrol protected areas and other wildlife sanctuaries have been cooperating with the NCFCP to crack down on forestry crimes in order to protect areas,” he added. “The ministry also advises provincial environment departments and rangers to closely cooperate with the National Police to prevent and crack down on crimes.”