Mondulkiri Provincial Court has issued warrants of arrest against three well-known tycoons who failed to appear for questioning over suspected large-scale illegal logging operations.
Court spokesman Mam Vanda yesterday said the warrants were issued recently against Srun Mengleang, owner of Srun Mengleang Company; Top Virda, owner of Vichery Company and Von Bunthai, a timber trader, who failed to appear for questioning before August 31.
The court action follows the arrest and charge of well-known timber tycoon Soeng Sam Ol and his managers in Mondulkiri province over four counts of timber crimes, as well as the arrest of tycoon Kong Kroeng and his son-in-law for allegedly plundering forests.
“We ordered them to appear for questioning but they failed to turn up,” he added. “So, we decided to send the case to the investigating judge for further action.”
According to court documents, the three tycoons are accused of “collecting, transporting and stockpiling forestry products without permits from the Forestry Administration”.
During a press conference in July, the National Committee for Forest Crime Prevention identified five companies, including Mr Virda’s Vichery, suspected of colluding with Mr Sam Ol and also running their own illegal logging operations.
Brigadier General Eng Hy, spokesman for the NCFCP and also spokesman for National Military Police, yesterday refused to comment on measures being taken against the three tycoons.
“It is a confidential issue relating to the investigation and we cannot even tell you if we have or have not received the arrest warrants,” he noted.
Major General Ben Rath, the police chief of Tboung Khmum province where Mr Mengleang and Mr Bunthai live, yesterday said that his provincial police will cooperate with Mondulkiri authorities when they receive the court warrant.
“The crime took place in Mondulkiri province and it is the duty of the authorities there to handle the case,” he said. “However, we will cooperate with them to look out for or arrest them [Mr Mengleang and Mr Bunthai].”
Pen Bonnar, a senior natural resource investigator with rights group Adhoc, yesterday said that since the arrests of Mr Sam Ol and Mr Kroeng, more than 20 people have been summoned to be questioned at the court or provincial military police headquarters in connection with illegal logging.
“The courts have summoned more than 20 people and there are sure to be more people who are involved with illegal logging, including local officials,” Mr Bunnar said. “The court actions will make them concerned.”
Mr Bonnar urged the NCFCP to look for the suspects itself rather than hand over the task to provincial authorities in order to avoid “conflict of interest”.
“I believe there are other suspects still at large and the anti-logging task force led by General Sao Sokha should strictly implement the law and bring them to court,” he noted. “I don’t trust the local authorities but only the National Committee for Forest Crime Prevention.”