Police in Banteay Meanchey province raided a warehouse in Malai district on Sunday, discovering 90 pieces of luxury and first-grade wood as well as 37 cans of used cooking oil. The warehouse owner fled shortly before the raid and remains at large, officials said.
A well-known timber trader, Teuk Bunthoeun, built the warehouse in the district’s Tuol Pongro commune about three years ago, said Chap Sopharith, chief of the provincial police’s anti-economic crime unit.
The raid, conducted by some 20 police and Forestry Administration officials, yielded 90 pieces of Thnong and Sokrom wood, each 25 centimeters in diameter and 4 meters long—about 90 cubic meters in total, he said.
Sokrom fetches a price of about $700 per cubic meter on websites like Alibaba, a value comparable to Thnong, which can sell for even more in Cambodia.
While police long suspected Mr. Bunthoeun’s business to be illegal, a tip from the court had finally given them grounds to search his operation, said Mr. Sopharith, adding that Mr. Bunthoeun had mysteriously fled just before the raid.
“We have not yet received specific answers from the warehouse owner because he escaped from taking responsibility for the wood,” he said.
Timber was not Mr. Bunthoeun’s only business, he added.
“We suspect that the man produces fake products. He kept used cooking oil at the warehouse,” he said. “He collected it to put it in cans and resell it at the market.”
Police investigating the case would send documents to the court today, Mr. Sopharith said. While he was not certain about Mr. Bunthoeun’s background, he said he suspected that he was a soldier or a military police officer.
Sok Keo Bundith, a deputy prosecutor at the provincial court, said he received “secret information” before ordering police and forestry officials to carry out the raid.
“We have known about the warehouse owner, and I will summon him for questioning after I receive the documents from police,” he said.
pheap@cambodiadaily.com
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