The government on Monday auctioned off the first lot of timber from roughly 70,000 cubic meters of illegally logged wood seized by authorities earlier this year, after a lack of interest forced more than a month of cancellations.
Soung Mengkea, an undersecretary of state at the Finance Ministry, said the 265-cubic-meter lot in Stung Treng province went to Chea Theach for a winning bid of about $127,000—some $32,000 above the asking price.
The undersecretary said Mr. Theach had put down a 20 percent deposit on the asking price in order to take part in the auction and will have to pay the difference on his winning bid before he can haul it off.
“We will issue a permit for him to transport the wood from Stung Treng province to anywhere he wants to process it for domestic use,” he said.
Mr. Mengkea said the timber could not be sent abroad due to a blanket ban the government placed on timber exports in mid-January. The ban took effect days after a special task force was called up by Prime Minister Hun Sen—and placed under the command of the National Military Police—to root out illicit timber stocks in eastern Cambodia.
It was that task force that seized the 70,000 cubic meters of wood the government has been trying to auction off since late June, valued at a combined $14 million.
Of a total 11 lots spread across five provinces, Monday’s auction in Stung Treng was the only one to attract the minimum three bidders the government set as a threshold for proceeding with an auction.
“I am very happy about the wood auction today because we received a higher price than the estimate,” Mr. Mengkea said.
Mr. Theach, whose business is unknown, could not be reached for comment.
The planned auctions have suffered from a severe shortage of applicants. After canceling multiple scheduled biddings, the government decided late last month not to auction off the vast majority of the 70,000 cubic meters and instead negotiate with interested buyers.
Mr. Mengkea said those negotiations would take place on Wednesday and Thursday.
Most of the timber seized by the task force was found on the properties of agribusiness firms, many of which have been accused by locals and rights groups of illegal logging. Provincial courts have opened investigations into several of them in recent months but have yet to lay charges.
pheap@cambodiadaily.com
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