Left to Right: 4-star General Kun Kim, Chan Sarun, and Touch Naroth
23 Nov 07By Savery
Translated from Khmer and posted online from http://ki-media.blogspot.com
The crime of transporting good quality timber from the provinces to timber depots in Phnom Penh takes place everyday before this timber is smuggled out of the country and sold in Vietnam, China, and a number of other foreign black markets. The timber transporting traders claim that they enjoy the backing of the wives of high-ranked government officials, police or army generals, or relatives of Prime Minister Hun Sen, as well as senior officials in the Agriculture Ministry.During the recent Water and Moon Festivals this year some of the large motorboats that towed the dragon-boats for the race in Phnom Penh hid luxury wood in their hulls with some of them reportedly smuggling hundreds of cubic meters of high-priced timber in this manner. In the timber shipment via the motorboats towing the dragon-boats to Phnom Penh this time some timber merchants claimed that four-star General Kun Kim, deputy supreme commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and one of the officials closest to Prime Minister Hun Sen, was the main share holder in their business.Sources said that there were about 10 motorboats towing the dragon-boats to Phnom Penh and each of them carried hundreds of cubic meters of luxury wood arranged at the bottom of the hulls with tree saplings placed atop. The dragon-boat rowers were arranged to sit atop the tree saplings in a bid to deter inspection by the authorities. The sources said that these timber carrying motorboats moored in Tonle Sap River off Phsa Toch Market close to the Caltex gas station. Both the Economic Police [EP] officers and Forest Administration [FA] officials were said to be afraid to search the boats. In fact, they were afraid not of the power of Kun Kim but of the power of the timber traders’ dollars.A Phnom Penh FA official told Sralanh Khmer that in the night of 21 November 2007 a few FA officials and EP officers drove cars and piloted outboards to negotiate with and take bribes from the tycoons behind the shipment of sawn timber in motorboats from Kampong Cham and Kracheh provinces that were at anchor off Phsa Toch Market. When the local police officers came to question and inspect the boats, the timber traders told the workers who were unloading the timber to tell the police that Kun Kim had shares in their stocks.The sources said that one of the timber smuggling motorboats that night was named Vatthanak-Sambat. Another motorboat mooring nearby, named Chey Chumneah II, was also suspected of transporting good quality wood. However, the names of the other motorboats in that area were covered up with pieces of cloth.A witness of this incident said that before 9:00 PM in the night of 21 November outboards of the FA officials and those of the EP officers were seen racing behind these 10 motorboats that were towing the dragon-boats. Three large motorboats suspected of transporting hundreds of cubic meters of wood (in each boat) left the Phsa Toch Market mooring place and sailed to drop anchor at another place in Prek Phneou. It was suspected that these boats were taking their shipments of timber to a timber depot belonging to a businesswoman named Chae Moy.The sources said that this wood smuggling incident was also reported to Phnom Penh Police Commissioner Touch Naroth, Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun, FA Director-General Ty Sokhun, and the EP bureau head and deputy heads. But these men did not dare to stop the boats. They instead sent representatives to negotiate with the timber merchants. After pocketing the bribes, they just let them go, presuming that Kun Kim was behind these shipments of timber to Phnom Penh.The sources said that luxury wood transported by motorboat, car, and train come to Phnom Penh everyday with the merchants who are waiting to buy the timber ready to pay off the EP officers and FA officials each time a shipment reaches Phnom Penh. However, if the timber smugglers fail to pay the bribes their shipments would be immediately sequestered. No matter where the smuggled timber is hidden, the EP and FA know about it. And each time there is an arrest and confiscation the media would be invited to take pictures and telecast the captured goods with these officials and officers acting as if they have just made a big score in suppressing forest crime. In reality, this usually follows the failure in the negotiation to extort bribes from the timber traders.Sralanh Khmer yesterday was unable to contact General Kun Kim and many other figures involved for clarification on these criminal shipments of luxury wood through motorboats towing dragon-boats from the provinces that were moored off Phsa Toch Market in the night of 21 November.It should be noted that a number of local newspaper reporters were beaten up by unidentified persons and powerful officials and some of them were given death threats in Pursat province just because they took pictures of cars transporting timber and published news about the illegal logging and timber transporting in Pursat. Concerning these warnings and persecutions, the authorities have never discovered and arrested any criminals behind them.