A Cambodian court sentenced eight people, including a former provincial governor, to up to 17 years in jail on Thursday for taking bribes to allow a Vietnamese company to log in a national park.
PHNOM PENH A Cambodian court sentenced eight people, including a former provincial governor, to up to 17 years in jail on Thursday for taking bribes to allow a Vietnamese company to log in a national park.
"They turned a blind eye to the illegal logging companies after taking bribes," judge Ke Sakhan told the court.
He and environmentalists described the destruction of more than 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) of Virachey National Park in the northeastern province of Rattanakiri as a "tremendous loss" that threatened species such as tigers, leopard and elephants.
Former Rattanakiri governor Kham Khoeun, who was sentenced in absentia after going into hiding, received 17 years while the others, military officers, police chiefs and forest rangers, got between 13 and 15 years, the judge said.
He also ordered them to pay $15 million for the destruction of the forest, a stretch of jungle that used to be criss-crossed by the myriad paths of the Ho Chi Minh trail during the Vietnam War.
The convicted men protested their innocence and said they would appeal.
"There were not many trees in the area because they had all been destroyed by the U.S. bombardment during the war," former police chief Yoeun Banlong said.
Experts believe illegal logging has reduced Cambodia's forest cover to less than 30 percent now compared to more than 70 percent in the early 1970s, when the country started its slide into more than two decades of civil war and unrest.