Three Arrested for 505 Kg of Controversial ‘Yellow Vine’

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A drone view of the red dirt road, power lines and clearing near the location where forest defender Chut Wutty was killed in 2012 in Koh Kong’s Bak Khlang commune on April 23, 2022. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)
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Hundreds of kilograms of a Koh Kong plant known for murky links to ecstasy production were found in the car of a Koh Kong resident, sparking the arrests of three individuals.

The Koh Kong Provincial Court has charged three men, Heang Hakmoney; Sok Vy, 42; and Pak Nhean, 44 for harvesting and transporting non-timber forest products without a permit, said Vei Phirum, spokesman for the court’s prosecution.

Environment officers first arrested Hakmoney as he was transporting 455 kg of yellow vine in his car on January 30, leading police to search the homes of Vy and Nhean in Kiri Sakor district’s Koh Sdach commune and find 50 more kilograms of the plant in 12 bags, said district police chief Prom Sovanny.

“Environmental officers and the Forest Administration conducted this operation,” Sovanny said.

The provincial directors for the departments of agriculture and environment, Y Mengleang and Hun Marady, declined to comment.

Yellow vine, known as mreas prov, has been linked to ecstasy production. The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime has warned of safrole oil historically being extracted from the vines in makeshift distilleries deep in the forests.

The oil can also be legitimately used in fragrances and insecticides, but all harvesting of mres prov is illegal as it has been classified as a rare species under the Forestry Law, the UNODC has said.

Several tons of safrole oil were seized in multiple raids in Cambodia two decades ago, when the substance was thought to be one of the primary sources of global ecstasy production. But amid crackdowns manufacturers reportedly changed their syntheses.

Environmentalist Chut Wutty was shot dead by military police in 2012 while taking reporters around concessionaire Timbergreen’s yellow vine production facilities in Koh Kong.

Timbergreen’s majority shareholder Khieu Sarsileap directs other companies together with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughters Hun Maly and Hun Mana, as well as Kim Heang, tycoon and wife of CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat.

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