A ruling party lawmaker has been linked to the arrests of twelve Vietnamese illegal loggers in Ratanakkiri province.
The loggers were reportedly detained on land in the province’s Taveng district controlled by Noupheap Sophy Investment, a firm with links to a number of high-profile officials, including Khoeng Noupheap, a National Assembly member for the Cambodian People’s Party, and Lim Heng, a vice president of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce.
Nupheap has denied his company was directly involved in the alleged illegal activity.
Chea Bunthoeun, deputy Ratanakkiri police chief, said the loggers would be charged after a judge ruled against them.
Unconfirmed local media reports have indicated that the group entered Cambodia under the supervision of company representative Sek Virak.
Thorn Savun, a provincial governor, said the media reports were “not false”.
According to open data compiled by local rights group Licadho, Nupheap Sophy was granted a 9,000-hectare plot of land in Taveng district to develop a rubber plantation.
Reached on Tuesday, Khoeng Noupheap denied any knowledge of illegal activity at the plantation.
“I have not received any precise information about the case because there were people responsible out there at the site. Even though the company is under my name, I am not directly managing it,” Noupheap told VOA Khmer by phone. “The person named Sek Virak is the manager. Please give me some time to explore for more concrete information.”
Virak has served as the company’s manager on the site since it was granted the land concession in 2011, Noupheap added, denying his company is employing foreign workers illegally.
“We only employ Cambodians. It is just a fact on the ground that we can only have access to the site from the Vietnamese border since we do not have proper roads to access the site from Cambodian territory.”
Seng Virak could not be reached while Vu Quang Minh, the Vietnamese ambassador to Cambodia, did not respond to a request for comment.
Seong Senkaruna, a senior investigator at local rights group Adhoc, said that despite some reforms loose regulation of economic land concessionaires was still a problem.
“Despite the action taken against wrongdoing, including the confiscation of land from the companies, we can still see some loose scrutiny of some companies that use land concessions as a pretext for deforestation and any other forms of exploitation,” he said.