The Ratanakkiri Provincial Court on Thursday charged an opposition CNRP commune chief with smuggling protected forest products after he was arrested while transporting logs to sell in Vietnam, officials said.
Sev Nhang, who was elected chief of Batang commune in O’Yadaw district for the Sam Rainsy Party in 2002, was arrested on Wednesday night while driving a car with 23 pieces of luxury-grade Thnong wood, district military police commander Sok Min said.
“He was caught red-handed and arrested while transporting luxury logs to sell in Vietnam,” he said, adding that military police had confiscated Mr. Nhang’s car and sent him for questioning at the provincial Forestry Administration.
Ratanakkiri provincial deputy prosecutor Chea Sophek said that Mr. Nhang, who had been charged under articles 96, 98 and 100 of the Forestry Law, is being held in pretrial detention.
Article 100 of the Forestry Law states that any activities carried out by police, military officers or local officials that “provides direct or indirect authorization” to illegal logging operations carry a sentence of between one to five years in prison and a fine of between 10 to 100 million riel, or about $2,500 to $25,000.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that authorities had charged Mr. Nhang unusually soon after he was arrested Wednesday night.
“I think this is a case of discrimination against the opposition since the opposition has won the commune chief position in that commune for three mandates already,” Mr. Thy said.
“Authorities and court officials have not taken action to arrest a number of rich and powerful officials for prosecution although rosewood has been found at their residence,” he added.
Mr. Min denied that Mr. Nhang’s arrest was related to his political affiliation.
“Although he is a commune chief from the opposition party, his arrest was not politically motivated,” he said.
CNRP deputy provincial chief Eam Oeun said that a consistent application of the law was needed.
“Of course, he committed a forestry offense but the implementation of the law should be fair for all and other loggers smuggling luxury wood in big trucks have never been caught,” Mr. Oeun said.
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