Official quizzed over logging

Khy Sovuthy / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Choeng Sok Chantha returned home after questioning. Supplied

A deputy Mondulkiri provincial governor accused of colluding with illegal Vietnamese loggers was questioned at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday.

Choeng Sok Chantha had been accused of collusion by people who were questioned in the court before him.

“I questioned him and then allowed him to go back home,” deputy prosecutor Ngin Pech said.

Earlier, Brigadier General Sak Sarang, the former commander of Mondulkiri police, was questioned by Mr Pech.

Mr Pech said that Brig Gen Sarang had been questioned over illegal logging and timber being transported out of Mondulkiri province’s O’Raing district early this year.

Brig Gen Sarang had been allowed to go home because the investigation was continuing and no one had been deemed an official suspect yet.

Brig Gen Sarang was transferred to Kampong Chhnang province in August following allegations of collusion with illegal loggers.

“More than ten people are involved with this case,” Mr Pech said at the time of Brig Gen Sarang’s questioning, adding that he also questioned other military and police officials.

“We will question more people,” he said yesterday.

Asked if the court would invite the provincial governor and the provincial police chief for questioning, Mr Pech said he would review the complaint file before the court decided whether to invite them. He declined to comment in more detail.

When Mr Sok Chantha’s phone number was rung his son picked up.

He said: “My father went out to meet his friend and did not take his phone. I don’t know when he will come back.”

According to a report by the National Committee for National Resource Crime Protection and Prevention, 13 officials from multiple units had been careless in their duties.

The report, signed by General Sao Sokha, commander of the National Military Police and committee president, was dated May 15 this year and sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Among the names on the list were Brig Gen Sarang; Brigadier General Toch Yun, the provincial police chief who moved to work at Interior Ministry in July after the crime happened; Brigadier General Khin Mengsreng, provincial RCAF’s military commander; and provincial prosecutor Ling Hokmeng.

The report said also that 19 other officials who were careless in their duties were involved with forestry crime in the province.
Provincial Governor Svay Sam Eang and Brig Gen Yun could not be reached for comment.

The case was transferred to Phnom Penh Municipal court in July by Ya Narin, director of Mondulkiri provincial court.

Gen Sokha’s report urged ministries, institutes and units to take action against officials who were negligent and influenced by logging interests.

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

Brig Gen Sarang denied appearing at the court 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.

The National Police forest crime report 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 illegal logging to take place without interference.

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

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

Last month, the municipal court sentenced seven Vietnamese to one year in prison and fined them about $12,500 each for illegal logging in connection with the case.

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