Photographs leaked on Facebook earlier this month show prominent businessman Sok Puthyvuth, son-in-law to Prime Minister Hun Sen, on a hunting trip that may have violated Cambodian law if it took place here, and which included the killing of what appears to be a threatened species of loris.
The photos were leaked on April 4 by the anonymous Facebook page Thleay, or “Leaks” in Khmer, which has posted batches of documents and photos of individuals linked to the ruling party since it was created last month.
The post asserts the photos were taken after the death last month of Mr. Puthyvuth’s father, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An. “Please authorities, help arrest this person who violates the law,” the post says.
However, Mr. Puthyvuth shaved his head after the death, and is seen in the photos with a full head of hair, indicating the hunt was likely earlier.
One photo shows Mr. Puthyvuth, CEO of the Soma Group conglomerate and husband of Mr. Hun Sen’s daughter Hun Maly, smiling at the camera, an assault rifle muzzled by a silencer in his left hand and a dead wild pig at his feet.
Another photo shows a group of 10 men surveying a sparsely-wooded plain, standing alongside two parked pickup trucks.
Several other shots ostensibly depict the haul from the hunt: a deer held by its hind legs, a furry mass in the bed of a truck and an orange-hued, monkey-like carcass on a green tarp.
Thomas Gray, director of science at Wildlife Alliance, identified the latter animal as a pygmy slow loris, which is listed in the middle “rare” tier in Cambodia’s three-level wildlife classification system.
Eng Mengey, communications officer for Cambodia’s Wildlife Conservation Society, wrote in an email on Wednesday that the orange-furred animal “looks like the pygmy slow loris that is globally vulnerable,” but said he was not certain of the assessment.
Killing a rare species of animal is punishable by one to five years in prison and court fines of up to 100 million riel, or about $25,000, under the 2002 Law on Forestry.
It is unclear whether the hunt took place in Cambodia or abroad, and Mr. Puthyvuth did not respond to several requests for comment.
But Mr. Gray said that all countries where pygmy loris roam—a habitat spanning a large area east of the Mekong River in Cambodia, Vietnam, southern China and Laos—barred hunting the species.
Nor are there any private reserves in the region where the group might be allowed to pay to hunt such animals, Mr. Gray said.
The pygmy loris is “strongly protected” in China and Laos, according to a 2006 report from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora, which classifies the loris under its list of species threatened with extinction. Laos’ Wildlife and Aquatic Law bars most forms of hunting endangered or rare species.
Sao Sopheap, a spokesman for the Environment Ministry, said he had not seen the photos of the hunt or heard of the case.
“The hunting of endangered wildlife is strictly prohibited,” he said.
Nonetheless, Mr. Sopheap said he knew of no plans to follow up on the incident unless a formal complaint was filed.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith also said he had not seen the post.
“Normally when an incident happens, we must check first to see whether it’s true or not,” General Chantharith said.
Asked if Mr. Puthyvuth’s hunt violated the law, Gen. Chantharith said he was unfamiliar with the specifics of the law and referred questions to the Agriculture Ministry, where officials could not be reached for comment.
Cambodia’s Law on the Management of Weapons, Explosives and Ammunition bars civilians from owning firearms except when the guns are registered with the Interior Ministry and used for sporting activities.
Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he did not understand questions regarding the gun held by Mr. Puthyvuth and hung up on a reporter.
Almost all of Cambodia’s remaining forests are now protected areas, according to longtime conservationist Marcus Hardtke, meaning that the only allowable hunting was by villagers for subsistence purposes.
“But that’s clearly not the case here,” he wrote in an email after reviewing the hunting photos. “Looks to me [like] they just killed everything in sight, big or small.”
paviour@cambodiadaily.com, sokhean@cambodiadaily.com
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