Search for Timber-Trading Border Official Yields Rosewood Stash

Authorities are seeking a border military official suspected of illegally trading timber in Svay Rieng province after they stopped a truck carrying more than 15 tons of rosewood early on Wednesday morning, and later found a cache of luxury wood at the soldier’s residence.

Forestry Administration officials began their search for Pich Yi after stopping a large Hyundai truck in Svay Rieng City heading toward the Sam Yorng checkpoint in Kompong Ro district after leaving Mr. Yi’s house early on Wednesday morning, said Thach Rothana, director of the provincial agriculture department.

The truck bore Vietnamese license plates and was carrying 3,360 pieces of rosewood totaling 15,765 kg, Mr. Rothana said.

“We stopped the Vietnamese truck and arrested a Khmer driver, and we saw a lot of pieces of rosewood,” he said. “We questioned the truck driver and he told us that the wood belonged to Pich Yi.”

Mr. Yi was identified as the deputy chief of the border military Platoon 616, Mr. Rothana said. He added that the truck, timber and driver were being held at the Forestry Administration cantonment office while authorities prepared to send the case to court.

Authorities did not find Mr. Yi when they went to search his home later in the morning, but did discover 517 kg of rosewood, 1,512 kg of luxury-grade Neang Nuon and 1,520 kg of Thnong, bringing the total haul up to about 19.3 tons of timber.

“We did not arrest Pich Yi because he escaped,” Mr. Rothana said. “But now we are looking for him.”

Authorities had been tracing a flow of small vehicles from Mr. Yi’s house that had been hauling wood across the border at late hours for several weeks, he added.

Contacted on Wednesday, Sous Sarin, deputy chief of the province’s serious crimes bureau, said that Mr. Yi had been dealing in timber for years without anyone stopping him.

“I have known Pich Yi for a long time,” he said. “He was poor in the past, but his standard of living has recently improved because he started doing timber business in Vietnam.”

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