A team of forestry officials and military police raided a riverside warehouse in Stung Treng province on Wednesday night, just as workers were moving a stockpile of illegally logged wood into boats and a truck, an official said on Thursday.
A rights worker based in the northern province said the well-known warehouse owner—a powerful Cambodian-Vietnamese businesswoman—had been illegally transporting wood to Vietnam unchecked for the better part of a decade while paying local officials to turn a blind eye.
Meas Sophon, deputy head of the Forestry Administration’s Stung Treng cantonment, said his officials raided the warehouse with provincial military police at about 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, acting on a tip from a source who said the building was full of illegally logged wood. When they arrived, he said, warehouse workers were loading the timber onto three wooden boats and a cargo truck. None were arrested.
Pressed for further details, Mr. Sophon refused to say what kind of wood was seized or how much. He would not name the warehouse owner—saying only that she was a Cambodian-Vietnamese national—or indicate whether authorities intended to arrest her.
Photographs of the raid show dozens of whole logs and squared-off planks, most about 3 meters in length.
Hou Sam Ol, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, named the businesswoman as Heng Samneang, and said she had been buying wood from loggers inside the forest and transporting the wood at the warehouse.
She had been allowed free rein to send wood down river to Vietnam for years by paying local officials in monthly installments, Mr. Sam Ol said, citing his own investigations and those conducted by fellow Adhoc staffers.
“No one has dared stop her business because she pays police, military police and forestry administration officials to hide her forest crimes,” he said. He said he believed the Wednesday night’s raid took place on the orders of national-level officials.
The allegations are not without precedent.
In May, a group of men arrested after plowing through a roadblock with a truckload of luxury-grade wood said they were transporting the timber for Ms. Samneang.
Three months earlier, authorities found a large haul of luxury wood inside a sawmill in Stung Treng owned by the businesswoman, but said they could not conclude the timber belonged to her.
Mr. Sophon, the forestry official, denied Mr. Sam Ol’s accusations of bribe-taking and hung up on a reporter.
Deputy provincial police chief Tan Nimul also dismissed the claims. “We did not commit this crime like Adhoc accused us,” he said.
Ieng Vandy, provincial military police chief, could not be reached.
Eng Hy, a spokesman for the National Military Police, said the raid was carried out in response to information provided by Mr. Vandy but declined to say more.
pheap@cambodiadaily.com
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