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Brigadier questioned over links to illegal logging

Khy Sovuthy / Khmer Times Share:
Brigadier General Sak Sarang appeared at Phnom Penh Municpal Court. Supplied

A military police commander accused of colluding with Vietnamese loggers felling wood in Mondulkiri province was yesterday questioned at Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Brigadier General Sak Sarang, the former commander of Mondulkiri police before his transfer to Kampong Chhnang province in August following allegations of collusion against him, was questioned by deputy prosecutor Ngin Pech.

Mr Pech said that Brig Gen Sarang was questioned over illegal logging and timber transports out of Mondulkiri province’s O’Raing district in early 2017.

He was later allowed to go home because the investigation was continuing and no one has been deemed an official suspect yet, Mr Pech said.

“More than ten people are involved with this case,” Mr Pech said, noting he also questioned other military and police officials yesterday.

“We will continue the procedures with transparency,” he added.

Brig Gen Sarang denied appearing at the courthouse when reached by phone yesterday.

“I did not go to clarify anything at the court and the court did not summon me,” he said, declining to comment further.

Yesterday’s questioning followed a National Committee for Forest Crime Prevention report that was forwarded to Interior Minister Sar Kheng in March.

The report implicated more than ten military, police and military police officials, including Brig Gen Sarang, of collusion with Vietnamese loggers pillaging Cambodian forests in Mondulkiri.

The report alleged that the officials were accepting bribes to allow the illegal logging operation to move forward without interference.

General Neth Savoeun, the National Police Commissioner, asked Mr Kheng to take action against the officials implicated in the report.

Other top officials accused included Captain Chum Ratana, police chief of the unofficial checkpoint O’Chum, and Captain Leang Phearoth, police chief of the unofficial checkpoint O’Huch.

Prior to the finalised report, reports in February said other top officials were accepting bribes of $20,000 to $100,000 to turn a blind eye to the illegal logging.

Mondulkiri Governor Svay Sam Eang said at the time that evidence of systemic collusion had been found.

Mr Sam Eang suggested the officials lose their positions or be punished according to the law.

The crackdown in early 2017 also led to the arrests of seven Vietnamese nationals for illegal logging.

After their arrests, police seized 145 logs of luxury wood, totalling about 200 cubic metres. Police also seized eight trucks, four motorbikes, two chainsaws and other items.

The group appeared in court on October 25 and claimed they were not loggers but mechanics.

On the day of their arrests, they said they had been hired by a Cambodian-Vietnamese timber businessman to repair some broken trucks that were stuck in the forest.

A verdict against the seven is due next week.

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