Police in Kompong Thom province have arrested two men respectively claiming to be an environmental NGO official and a reporter who allegedly extorted locals by threatening to tell authorities they were farming illegally on state land.
Pov Bunthon, 35, and Pav Yat, 46, who had identification cards showing they were vice president of the Fishery Environment Wild Animal and Forest Guardian Organization and a reporter for the little-known One Khmer Nationality Newspaper, were arrested on Monday*and on Sunday, respectively, said Ke Khannara, a deputy provincial police chief. A third suspect in his 40s, Phorn Socheat, is still at large.
Mr. Khannara said the alleged extortion happened on Friday.
He said the suspects “extorted money from a family that was plowing a rice field with a homemade tractor by telling them that they were plowing on state land and that if they did not give them money they would be taken to court.”
Though the couple were working the farm for someone else, Mr. Khannara said the suspects also threatened to confiscate their tractor. He said the couple handed over $700 and another 400,000 riel, about $100. They made a complaint to the police on Sunday.
The deputy police chief said Mr. Bunthon and Mr. Yat had confessed to extorting the couple and had said the third suspect, Mr. Socheat, was a reporter for Apsara TV. However, the director of the station’s news program, Mar Yarith, said he had never heard of a Phorn Socheat.
Mr. Khannara said Mr. Bunthon was accused of trying to extort money from a man driving a truck packed with harvested cassava a few months ago but was let off with a warning because no money had exchanged hands. “We warned him not to do it again,” he said.
The deputy said the two arrested suspects would be sent to the provincial court today to face charges.
An official at the Interior Ministry confirmed that Mr. Bunthon’s NGO was a registered organization.
Authorities across the country frequently arrest people attempting to extort locals by claiming to work for environmental NGOs with dubious-sounding names. Last month, police in Pursat province arrested three men claiming to work for an NGO calling itself, in English, the Interception Forestry and Wild Animals Violation.
phearun@cambodiadaily.com*
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