Four Years in Jail for Police Official Who Grabbed Tonle Sap Forests

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Kampong Chhnang deputy provincial police chief Sum Socheat, at center in the blue mask, exits a prison van to enter Phnom Penh Municipal Court on August 4, 2022. (Supplied)
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The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday sentenced a senior Kampong Chhnang police officer to four years in prison for illegally clearing flooded forests around the Tonle Sap lake between 2011 and 2021.

Judge Li Sokha announced the verdict and sentence against Kampong Chhnang deputy provincial chief Sum Socheat, 52, of four years in jail and a fine of 50 million riel, or about $12,500.

Judge Sokha also seized $508,988 from Socheat, and said he had the right to appeal.

Socheat was charged under the Criminal Code, Fisheries Law, Anti-Corruption Law and Anti-Money Laundering Law for destruction, embezzlement, illegally occupying flooded forests, not disclosing debts and money laundering.

Socheat’s arrest came as part of a crackdown on the encroachment of protected Tonle Sap flooded forests late last year. Soon after Prime Minister Hun Sen posted a Facebook missive about “anarchic deforestation” in a conservation area, military police and provincial officials scrambled to reclaim tens of thousands of hectares.

At the time, Socheat returned 675 hectares of land to the state, but was nevertheless arrested for the encroachment.

Defense lawyer Chann Socheat said on Thursday that he accepted that land had been occupied, but his client had already returned the land after Hun Sen made his announcement.

“I thought the court should have given him mitigating circumstances,” the lawyer said, adding that he would discuss an appeal with his client.

Another Kampong Chhnang police official, Keo Narun, was also arrested at the same time as Socheat. However, a former Kampong Chhnang provincial governor, Chhour Chandoeun, who was accused of grabbing more than 2,000 hectares around the Tonle Sap, appears to have evaded prosecution when the Anti-Corruption Unit closed its case against him last month.

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