Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana on Monday temporarily suspended Kampong Thom provincial deputy prosecutor Chea Sovanthet after he was alleged to have been involved in the clearing 10ha of mangrove forest with 17 tractors.
Vong Vathana’s missive to the provincial prosecutor on Monday said the Ministry of Justice had received a letter dated April 18 and decided to send the case to court.
It said Sovanthet was charged with “taking the initiative to cut and clear flooded mangrove forest” in Kampong Svay district’s Kampong Kor and Phat Sanday communes from April 13-17.
The charges were based on alleged offences in contravention of Article 28 of the Criminal Code and Article 98 of the Law on Fisheries.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin told The Post that according to standard legal procedure, if an official is charged by the court, he or she will be temporarily suspended pending its ruling.
After the court has carried out its investigations, should Sovanthet be found guilty, the court has the power to strike his name from the administrative framework and take legal action to administer appropriate punishment according to the law, he said.
“For the moment, we must suspend him for the sake of the investigation process because it in the hands of the court. Should the court find Sovanthet not guilty, he may be allowed to return to his position."
“There are several other people involved in the case, but I cannot identify anyone while the investigation is ongoing. As soon as court procedures are complete, any offenders will be identified,” Malin said.
Sovanthet referred questions to his senior leadership on Tuesday, while provincial prosecutor Ith Sothea declined to comment.
Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries provincial director Thiv Vanthy on Tuesday said he had received news of the matter.
“We are now working actively to further investigate the case and prepare detailed reports to present to senior leadership because the involved parties are well connected. I cannot elaborate further,” he said.
Phat Sanday commune chief Heng Mono declined to comment on Monday, referring questions to Kampong Kor commune chief Srey Nal.
Nal told The Post that from April 13-17, the authorities detained nine people and impounded 17 tractors as they were systematically clearing some 10ha of land.
But he said he was not yet sure of the total number of the people being held.
“They have behaved in an anarchic manner and have never told us who, whether people from lower society or the local authorities, is behind them."
“They have backing in high places, so they were never worried about us. The senior leadership came to carry out the arrests and, after questioning, it became apparent that the case involved the deputy prosecutor [Sovanthet]."
“Residents have reported to me several times, but I didn’t know what I could do. When I went, they told me they were on good terms with senior leadership,” Nal said.