A senior member of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s elite bodyguard unit is the owner of a warehouse that was used to stockpile illegally logged luxury wood until police raided the building in Banteay Meanchey province on Sunday, a military official said on Monday.
The commander of the Prime Minister Bodyguard Unit (PMBU), however, said the man was not on the force’s roster, also contending that members of the unit were too busy protecting the premier to run a business on the side.
Acting on a tip from the provincial court, police raised the warehouse in Malai district and discovered 90 cubic meters of luxury-grade Thnong and first-grade Sokrom wood worth tens of thousands of dollars.
The officer who led the raid, provincial anti-economic crime chief Chap Sopharith, said on Monday that his subordinates were scouring the province for the building’s owner, a military officer and timber trader named Teuk Bunthoeun.
“We will ‘invite him for questioning’ if we see him at any time,” Mr. Sopharith said, using a euphemism for arrest. “Mr. Bunthoeun must take responsibility for the wood found in the warehouse,” he said, warning that if the suspect denied ownership of the building, it would become the property of the state.
Mr. Sopharith said he did not know Mr. Bunthoeun’s military rank or position. Deputy provincial military commander Phork Sambath, however, said Mr. Bunthoeun was a senior PMBU member based in Phnom Penh
“I know Mr. Teuk Bunthoeun. He is a military official from Samdech Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit,” Mr. Sambath said. “He is a high-ranking official and drives a new Lexus SUV.”
“Mr. Bunthoeun’s usual business is timber and prahok,” he added, referring to the fermented fish paste central to Cambodian cuisine. “His wife has run a sawmill in Poipet City for a long time.”
PMBU commander Hing Bun Heang denied that Mr. Bunthoeun worked for the unit.
“All bodyguards are forbidden from working in the timber business,” General Bun Heang said. In any case, he added, “Bodyguards have no time for business because they are busy providing protection for Samdech Prime Minister.”
Considered the best trained and equipped combat unit in the country, the PMBU was once part of the military’s Brigade 70, which according to a 2007 Global Witness report “operates an illicit timber trafficking service that spans Cambodia and encompasses exports to Vietnam.”
pheap@cambodiadaily.com
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