Activist Calls for Crackdown on Prey Lang Forestry Crimes

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A truck is seen transporting logs in the Prey Lang Forest in Kratie province in early 2019. (Ouch Leng)
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An environmental activist has called on the government to expand its forestry crime crackdown to the Prey Lang Forest, casting suspicion on two companies he said should be monitored.

Ouch Leng, a recipient of the international Goldman Environmental Prize in 2016, made his appeal to the National Anti-Deforestation Committee, which in July embarked on a renewed drive to clamp down on illegal logging.

The crackdown has so far focused on Mondulkiri province, in the northeast of the country. Three forestry officials, three Chinese workers at a firm suspected of timber trafficking, and tycoon Soeng Sam Ol have been among an early wave of arrests in the province.

Leng told VOD on Wednesday that he congratulated the committee for having put more effort into combating forestry crimes over the past month, but said it should expand its efforts to the Prey Lang protected area in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.

Specifically, Leng said, the committee should monitor Angkor Plywood and Think Biotech in Kratie’s Sambor district and Stung Treng’s Siem Bok district. He claimed he had observed wood being logged for the companies since January and had spoken to some of their employees about the alleged timber trafficking.

A manager at Angkor Plywood denied the accusations and a representative of Think Biotech could not be reached.

According to the Commerce Ministry records, Angkor Plywood was registered in June 2011 and has three directors: Chea Sankthida, China-based Lu Chu-Chang and board chairman Chea Pov.

Think Biotech was registered in March 2013, and its current listed directors are Sankthida and Lu. But according to the OpenCorporates database it previously had two Korean board members, Chung Hwan Ki and Kim Hwang Cheul, who left the board in December 2018 and July 2017, respectively. The company was owned by Korean conglomerate Hanwha Corporation via Hong Kong-listed Think Biotech Hong Kong (formerly Hanwha Greentech). Think Biotech is listed as a Cambodian subsidiary of Hanwha Corporation in its 2016 annual report but is no longer mentioned from 2017.

Think Biotech previously faced accusations of clearing ancestral forests on its 34,000-hectare “reforestation project” spanning Kratie and Stung Treng.

Tith Sinat, sales manager at Angkor Plywood, told VOD by phone that she rejected any allegations of wrongdoing, saying her company only buys rubber and Javanese cottonwood to produce furniture.

The company had a handicrafts factory near the Phnom Pros and Phnom Srey mountains in Kampong Cham province, but no processing factory near Prey Lang, Sinat said.

“We don’t know anything,” she said. “We use normal wood — Javanese cottonwood and rubber wood — to produce plywood. We, Angkor Plywood, only buy local products to make wooden boards.”

Sinat said Angkor Plywood was owned by Sankthida, who was overseas receiving treatment for her eyes, while Lu, a Taiwanese national, was also on an overseas trip. Neither would be available to comment, she said.

She added that she did not know of Think Biotech, the pair’s other company.

A separate number provided for Lu was answered by Chea Sovann, who said he had worked as a translator and assistant for Lu for two weeks. Sovann affirmed that Lu was not in Cambodia and was unavailable to comment, and said he also did not know of Think Biotech.

A man who answered the telephone number listed with the Commerce Ministry for Think Biotech said his late brother had worked for the company but he had no further contact with the firm. Several other Cambodian phone numbers listed online for the company did not connect.

Eng Hy, spokesman of the National Anti-Deforestation Committee, encouraged Leng, the forestry activist, to file a complaint with military police in Kratie and a team would investigate the case.

“Our crackdown is everywhere. We always do it,” Hy said. “To the activist: Please kindly cooperate and contact Kratie’s military police.”

(Translated by Kang Sothear and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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