Doroshenko’s Lawyer Seeks Bail; Son Vows Legal Action

27 Mar

By: Khy Sovuthy , The Cambodia Daily, | March 27, 2015

A lawyer for Russian businessman Nikolai Doroshenko on Thursday requested bail for the 54-year-old, a day after he was arrested in Sihanoukville and imprisoned on fraud charges related to one of several disputes with fugitive developer Sergei Polonsky.

Military police arrested Mr. Doroshenko on Wednesday afternoon at his family’s Snake House restaurant and menagerie in Bei commune for failing to attend two court hearings last month about allegations that he forged signatures on fake documents to cheat Mr. Polonsky out of $10 million.

While Mr. Doroshenko remained behind bars at the Preah Sihanouk provincial prison Thursday, his lawyer, Chhun Chrea, sought his release.

“I submitted the bail complaint to the court this morning,” Mr. Chrea said, adding that his client was innocent of the fraud charges.

The charges—signature forgery, use of fake documents and breach of trust—are centered around the Sea Snake Investment Group, which both Mr. Doroshenko and Mr. Polonsky have a stake in.

Lawyers for Mr. Polonsky— who is wanted in Moscow on multimillion-dollar embezzlement charges—claim Mr. Doroshenko used the falsified documents to steal their client’s initial $10-million investment in the company. They are demanding the $10 million be returned and an additional $2 million in compensation.

Ros Saram, a deputy prosecutor at the Sihanoukville Provincial Court, said Thursday that there was a solid case against Mr. Doroshenko.

“I believe that we have some evidence that, based on the law, inculpates him,” he said.

Contacted Thursday, Mr. Doroshenko’s son Ostap, who is a captain in the provincial immigration police force, said his family would take legal action against Mr. Polonsky in response to his father’s incarceration. He said it had been Mr. Polonsky’s “mission to put him in prison.”

“Polonsky thinks he is right by the rules,” he said. “But we will see in the future who is right and who is wrong.”

Seven ‘Loggers’ Released Over Clearing State Land

27 Mar

By: Ben Sokhean , The Cambodia Daily, | March 27, 2015

The Stung Treng Provincial Court on Wednesday released seven men who were arrested for illegally logging in the province’s Sesan district, an official said.

The men were arrested on Monday for clearing state forest with machetes but released two days later after the court determined that they were not, in fact, loggers, according to prosecutor Pen Sarath.

“We decided to release them yesterday evening because they are not loggers,” Mr. Sarath said. “They are just workers who were middle-men, hired to clear that land,” he said.

“We are still investigating [to find] the leader in this case—the one who planned to clear the state land.”

Tith Vy, chief of the Forestry Administration’s Srekor-Kbal Romeas triage, who led Monday’s arrests, said his team followed the proper procedure in apprehending the seven.

“We arrested them because we received a report from the local commune officials about illegal logging,” Mr. Vy said.

“We received the report a day before [the arrests] about the logging, so we cooperated with commune police to arrest and question them.”

Khun Sear Land Dispute to Be Settled: Lawyer

26 Mar

By: BEN SOKHEAN , The Cambodia Daily, | March 26, 2015

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court again delayed the trial of a woman whose family is locked in a land dispute with tycoon Khun Sear on Wednesday, this time at the request of her lawyer, who is advising the family to give up their five-year battle and accept an apparent $160,000 compensation offer.

Ly Seav Minh, 23, and her family have been fighting Mr. Sear and his eponymous company over a plot of land in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district. She is facing charges of using violence against a property owner under the Land Law in relation to a 2013 scuffle with Mr. Sear’s security guards and has been in provisional detention since being arrested in November. Her father Ly Sreang Kheng is out on bail.

Choung Choungy, a lawyer representing the family, said during the hearing Wednesday that he was requesting a delay because he had filed a complaint to the Appeal Court over the municipal court’s refusal to grant Ms. Seav Minh bail.

Presiding Judge Svay Tonh granted the delay in the case, the second in two weeks.

However, after the hearing, Mr. Choungy claimed the family and a representative of Mr. Sear’s company had come to a verbal agreement last week that would see the company drop the case and pay the family $160,000 in return for them abandoning their home.

“The tycoon [Mr. Sear] wants the land…and the family accepted the compensation,” Mr. Choungy said. “So the company will drop the complaint. The family was forced to accept the deal because they want Seav Minh released from prison.”

Yet Touch Chhay, a lawyer for Mr. Sear’s company, said he knew nothing about the verbal agreement.

“I’m not sure about the negotiations, or any compensation,” he said. “I did not get any information from my client about this.”

Mr. Sreang Kheng and his wife, Mok Siv Hong, said after Wednesday’s hearing that they felt they had no choice but to give up their fight.

“I [will] accept the compensation because I want my daughter freed from prison,” Ms. Siv Hong said.

 

New Sesan, new study: NGO

26 Mar

By: Daniel Pye, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 26, 2015

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Trucks drive though a deforested area last year, removing unwanted materials from the Lower Sesan II dam construction site in Stung Treng’s Sesan district. Pha Lina

Rights advocates have called for construction of the Lower Sesan II hydropower dam in Cambodia’s Stung Treng province to be halted until new environmental and social impact assessments can be carried following changes allegedly made to the project’s plans.

Hydrolancang International, which is building the dam with Cambodia’s Royal Group, has redesigned it with the aim of improving sediment management, NGO International Rivers has learned.

The planned changes include lowering the height of the dam and installing sluice gates, which will affect the size of the reservoir and the dam’s downstream impacts.

Hydrolancang has yet to publicly confirm the redesign and company representatives did not return calls or respond to emailed requests for comment yesterday.

Royal Group representatives could also not be reached.

Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director at International Rivers, said the construction, which began over a year ago, should stop until new studies could be carried out.

“Numerous scientific studies have come out over the past few years highlighting how serious the impacts of this dam will be to fisheries, food security, hydrology and the Tonle Sap lake. It’s clear that this is a project that should not be built,” she said.

Sao Sopheap, Ministry of Environment spokesman, was not aware of the reported redesign plans, but said if the firms had changed the design, the dam “must be looked at carefully to see if there’s a real need for conducting a new environmental and social impact assessment”.

The government has also commissioned a feasibility study for a “fish passage” to determine whether it could mitigate some of the impacts on fish species caused by the project, Trandem said.

But Ouk Vibol, deputy director of the Department of Fisheries Conservation, said that even with such a feature, only a small proportion of the fish stocks could be saved.

“They are thinking of a fish passage or gate, but I am not quite sure if they will build one or not. But even if we have [one] only about 30 to 40 per cent [of fish] will survive.”

A 2012 International Union for Conservation of Nature study found that fish catches on the Tatai River had declined by up to 90 per cent since the construction of the Stung Tatai hydropower dam.

Meach Mean, coordinator of the 3S Rivers Protection Network, said a number of villagers to be affected by the Sesan had recently accepted compensation offers, but others continued to resist relocation.

Members of the National Assembly’s Environment Commission will leave Phnom Penh today for a four-day fact-finding mission to the dam site.

Fort Kheun, a representative of the communities that will be affected by the dam, said he would tell the commission that many people were unwilling to be resettled for the project.

“It is very important for us to let them know that we are not agreeing to go; we want to live in our homes.”

Ministry unveils new strictures on dredging

26 Mar

By: Taing Vida, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 26, 2015

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A sand dredger works on the Tonle Sap river near Phnom Penh earlier this year. Hong Menea

Sand-dredging businesses were offered both carrot and stick yesterday by officials touting a new regime for the much-criticised industry.

Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem told reporters that companies wishing to apply for new licences would need to wait for wide-ranging social and environmental impact assessments to be carried out on Cambodia’s rivers, whereas dredging companies active in areas that had already been studied would be allowed to continue after applying for temporary licences.

“The ministry will study whether the company will get a [temporary] licence at any locations, in order to perform sand dredging that avoids river bank collapses and other impacts,” he said.

The comments came two days after Prime Minister Hun Sen officially transferred responsibility for policing the sector to the Energy Ministry in a speech where he issued a stern warning to Sem to clean up the trade. A committee had previously acted as a go-between for several government departments, a system Hun Sen said was “too complicated” and resulted in officials dodging the blame for their failures.

Illegal sand dredging is rife, and large-scale operations in the past have been linked to government officials and politically connected tycoons.

After sand-dredging companies’ licences expire, many firms continue to collect sand from rivers to meet their orders, Sem said. “Where it is possible to exploit sand, we will allow those businesses to continue to operate their businesses.”

He also announced further cooperation with the Ministry of Environment to assess the social, economic and environmental impact of the practice.

Minister of Environment Say Sam Al said that the institution’s assessment teams would soon fan out to cover entire rivers, rather than relying on the previous system of only visiting small areas where dredging companies had requested to operate.

This, he added, would provide a better understanding of the industry’s effects on Cambodia’s river systems. “We want to determine exactly how much dredging [is happening],” he said, adding that the evaluation would last about a year.

The Energy Ministry also issued a statement saying it would create a hotline where people could report alleged cases of illegal sand dredging, and that it would establish a “River Guard” campaign to raise awareness of the practice’s impacts.

Speaking at the same event, military police commander General Sao Sokha said the paramilitary force had reached an agreement with the Energy Ministry to enforce the law on rogue companies.

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Villagers dubious of thumbprint request

25 Mar

By: May Titthara, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 25, 2015

More than 100 ethnic Phnong families embroiled in a land dispute with Vietnamese firm Binh Phuoc Kratie Co in Mondulkiri’s Keo Seima district yesterday refused authorities’ requests to submit thumbprints as part of a suggested resolution to the issue, out of fear they would be signing away their lands.

“We will no longer be cheated,” Phnong community member Yan Mao said. “They asked us for thumbprints in order to reach a settlement, but they need our thumbprints to tell the company that we have agreed to give them land.”

Authorities called on the local commune chief to coerce residents to submit their thumbprints, but villagers have been steadfast in their rejection, resident Roy Sokha said yesterday.

“We are afraid that if we make the thumbprints, the company will win the case and we will lose and be jailed,” he said. “That is why we are saying no. The commune chief has given us from March 24th to the 30th. After, they will take further measures.”

But Sre Chhouk commune chief Yorng Bun yesterday denied the allegations, saying authorities had requested the registration as a way of counting how many people live in the area.

“We did not coerce them. First, we asked them to make thumbprints, but they refused. Then, we asked them to register, but they still didn’t,” he said. “If there is no solution, then I will not be responsible, because it is their fault.”

Residents voiced their distrust of government officials over the thumbprint scheme due to similar reports in which villagers were the victims of dishonest dealings, said Sok Ratha, the provincial coordinator of local rights group Adhoc.

“They have [in the past] brought people’s thumbprints, but reached no solution, apart from people losing their land,” he said. “That’s why people don’t have confidence.”

Binh Phuoc Kratie Rubber I was in November 2011 granted a 70-year concession contract covering 8,926 hectares in Keo Seima district for agro-industrial purposes. Meanwhile, the Phnong community has built more than 170 homes on 1,100 hectares of disputed territory.

Phan Si Binh, the owner of Binh Phuoc Kratie, could not be reached for comment.

UN in Montagnard talks

25 Mar

By: Alice Cuddy and Phak Seangly, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 25, 2015

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Two ethnic Montagnard men sit next to a camp kitchen in a forest in Ratanakkiri province last year after fleeing across the boarder to avoid persecution in Vietnam. ADHOC

The United Nations’ refugee agency met this week with representatives of the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments to “discuss solutions” to the recent influx of Montagnard asylum seekers, with repatriation touted as a possible answer, the Post has learned.

Vivian Tan, regional spokeswoman for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the meeting, which took place on Monday, was aimed at finding a resolution “in line with international standards and agreeable to all parties”.

Since October, dozens of Christian Montagnards – an indigenous group from Vietnam’s Central Highlands – have fled to Cambodia citing religious persecution.

Their arrival has been met with varying responses. Thirteen have so far been granted refugee status, 10 others are seeking to process their asylum claims in Phnom Penh, 13 remain in hiding in the forests of Ratanakkiri province, and – in direct violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention – dozens more have been deported back to Vietnam without due process.

According to those sent back, their deportations were the result of coordinated efforts by Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities. While Tan said that no conclusions had been reached from the talks, she acknowledged that voluntary repatriation had been proposed.

In 2002, Cambodia, Vietnam and UNHCR reached a trilateral voluntary repatriation agreement after UN officials were promised access to the Central Highlands. Three years later, a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding was signed to repatriate refugees under controlled conditions.

The 2005 agreement came under fire from rights groups and observers, who said it authorised the forced repatriation of recognised refugees who refused resettlement abroad, and had insufficient provisions for monitoring and protecting returnees.

A 2006 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlighted the issue of returnees being persecuted for leaving. It cited interviews with some who had “doubled back”, that is, they had returned but “experienced such severe persecution that they fled a second time to Cambodia”.

The report said the accounts “call into serious question the credibility of UNHCR’s monitoring of returnees”.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division, said yesterday that the group still has “serious concerns that it is not possible to systematically and sustainably monitor the conditions for return of Montagnards to Vietnam”. He added that UNHCR now has “even fewer staff in Cambodia and less capacity to take on such a mission”.

“If this is being discussed, that should set off alarm bells for those who care about refugee protection in the region,” he said.

Sister Denise Coghlan of the Jesuit Refugee Service Cambodia said the “root cause” of the problem still needs to be addressed.

“It’s nine years since all of that happened, and it still seems that refugees and asylum seekers are claiming the same religious persecution,” she said, explaining that until the persecution ends, it is unlikely that refugees will agree to return.

Government officials would not confirm details of Monday’s talks, while the Vietnamese Embassy could not be reached.

But according to Tan, other possible solutions discussed in the meeting include resettlement and local integration. UNHCR, she said, continues to “advocate that individuals wishing to seek asylum in Cambodia must be able to access the national asylum system”.

Interior Ministry spokesman General Khieu Sopheak said that no countries have yet agreed to resettle the 13 Montagnards granted refugee status earlier this month. The ministry is “worrying about this now. We don’t know where to send them”.

The US Embassy said it had not been approached about resettling the Montagnards, but called for “durable, practical solutions for refugees and asylum seekers in accordance with international humanitarian standards”.

Robertson said finding a solution for the Montagnards would be difficult. “The problem is the only solution that would be agreeable to the Montagnards themselves is for Vietnam to end its discriminatory policies and abusive harassment of Montagnard communities in the highlands, and so far Vietnam has shown no inclination to do that.”

He added that third-country resettlement should not have been discussed with Vietnam. “These people have fled for a reason, and Hanoi should not be given another shot at them.”

Meanwhile, for those still in hiding, a solution cannot come soon enough.

“They are still waiting for help from the UN . . . they have very little food from villagers even to eat once a day,” said a man assisting the asylum seekers who asked not to be named. “Two have bad fevers, stomach aches, and their bodies are sick all over.”

In Logging Hotbed, 7 Arrested for Felling Trees

25 Mar

By: Ben Sokhean , The Cambodia Daily, | March 25, 2015

Forestry officials and police on Monday arrested seven men for logging illegally in Stung Treng province’s Sesan district, officials said Tuesday.

But a commune chief and a local conservationist said the arrests of the men, who were using machetes, was being used to direct attention away from large-scale illegal logging taking place in the vicinity of the under-construction Lower Sesan II hydropower dam.

Tith Vy, chief of the Forestry Administration’s Srekor-Kbal Romeas triage, said the seven men were arrested Monday morning near the border of the two communes for which the triage is named.

“I can confirm that we arrested seven people yesterday because they were clearing state forest land without permission,” Mr. Vy said, adding that the men were planning to clear five hectares of land but refusing to explain how he knew this.

“We are still questioning them at my office,” he said, declining to name the seven.

Kbal Romeas commune police chief Lot Maran confirmed the arrests, but also refused to name the men.

“The Forestry Administration officials asked my police officers to help them arrest [those] who were involved with clearing land,” he said.

Royal Group, a local conglomerate headed by tycoon Kith Meng, has the exclusive right to clear a 36,000-hectare reservoir for the 400-megawatt Lower Sesan II.

But Siek Mekong, the chief of nearby Srekor commune who lives on the dam site, said that large-scale loggers were busy felling trees illegally and laundering them through the reservoir.

“I think that this action is unjust,” Mr. Mekong said of the arrests.

“They arrested normal people who were cutting a little bit of wood for their livelihoods,” he said. “I never see officials arresting logging companies for ruining the environment.”

Meach Mean, coordinator of the 3S Rivers Protection Network, a local conservation NGO, said Forestry Administration officials likely targeted the seven men in order to make it appear as if action is being taken to stop illegal logging.

“The arrests were made only to make them look good,” he said. “They arrest only small people and never arrest any companies illegally logging.”

Mines minister told to take reins

24 Mar

By: Tat Oudom and Taing Vida, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 24, 2015

Prime Minister Hun Sen has sent a stark warning to Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem over illegal sand dredging: the buck stops with you.

During the official opening of the Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel in the capital yesterday, a project which itself required a large amount of sand dredging, Hun Sen took aim at Suy Sem, saying he should take sole responsibility for the problem.

“Mr Minister of Mines and Energy, from now on, the sand on the mainland, in streams, rivers and the ocean is your responsibility,” he said. “If you are in prison, you only imprisoned yourself,” he added.

Illegal sand dredging is rife in Cambodia and large-scale operations in the past have been linked to government officials, including Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat, who dredged heavily in the Tatai River and other parts of Koh Kong province.

Meng Saktheara, secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said on Sunday that full authority over the dredging business had been transferred to the ministry, adding that only 10 companies were currently registered to dredge for sand.

Many others, he said, had seen their licences expire and would not be issued new ones, but were continuing to collect sand on an industrial scale to meet orders and provide wages for workers.

Previously, a sand committee acted as a go-between for several government departments, a system Hun Sen said was “too complicated” and resulted in officials dodging the blame for their failures.

Man injured in blast at illegal mine

24 Mar

By: Phak Seangly, The Phnom Penh Post, | March 24, 2015

A 27-year-old man was badly injured in an explosion at an illegal mining site in Battambang’s Phnom Prek district yesterday afternoon, police said.

According to Song Sopheak, Phnom Prek’s district police chief, the man and a few others were using dynamite to excavate an unlicensed gold mine when a technical error caused the dynamite to explode prematurely at about 1pm.

“They were mining illegally there and [the dynamite] exploded, injuring one of them badly, but [he was] not killed,” Sopheak told the Post yesterday, adding that the victim lived in Phnom Prek village, and had been sent to Thailand to receive emergency medical treatment for the injuries he sustained.

Police are looking into the explosion, he added.

Chum Maly, the Phnom Prek village chief, said illegal mining still takes place around the village where the explosion occurred yesterday.

“About 20 people are mining illegally here. I saw police come and go, but I do not know what police are doing there,” he told the Post.

The Ministry of Mines and Energy is currently in the midst of a countrywide clampdown on illegal mining and sand dredging.

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