August 19, 2021

Firm says not at fault over geckos

Banteay Srey Forestry Administration officers stopped a truck belonging to Virak Buntham for transporting geckos in Siem Reap province on Tuesday. FACEBOOK

Khouth Sophak Chakrya | The Phnom Penh Post
Publication date 18 August 2021 | 21:32 ICT

Officers from the Banteay Srey Forestry Administration in Siem Reap province on August 17 seized nearly 1,000 geckos that were being transported by a truck belonging to transportation company Virak Buntham. The officials demanded that the company pay a fine of $30,000 but they refused, saying the geckos belonged to a customer and their staff was unaware they were on board.

According to Virak Buntham owner Sour Virak, the incident took place when one of his company’s trucks reached Siem Reap after travelling through Mondulkiri, Stung Treng and Preah Vihear on its way to Preah Sihanouk province.

When it arrived in Siem Reap’s Bakong district, the officials stopped the truck and checked two cases in the cargo area underneath where they found 984 geckos.

Virak said the geckos were loaded onto the truck in Preah Vihear province by a customer sending them as freight and his staff was unaware of the cases’ contents.

“After they found the [geckos], the Forestry Administration officials demanded that the company pay a fine of $30,000 in exchange for the release of the truck, but we refused because the geckos are not ours.

“We cooperated with the authorities by providing the contact information given for the sender and receiver of the package and we gave them the receipt,” Virak said, adding that the official told the company to find and arrest the sender to avoid the fine.

Virak said he believed that the amount of money being demanded and the suggestion that his company somehow apprehend the sender of the packages – an implausible, impractical and possibly illegal course of action for a private transport company to undertake – may indicate that the entire incident was a scheme hatched by the officials and an attempted shakedown.

Bu Ly Sopha, deputy chief of the Banteay Srey Forestry Administration which also oversees Bakong district, rejected the accusation that his officials demanded the money in exchange for the release of the truck.

He said he stopped the bus because his officers had found that the bus was loaded with heavy goods and they suspected that it might be illegally transporting luxury timber.

“When we checked, we did not see timber but we saw two cases that appeared to be leaking water. We suspected they contained wildlife and we asked them to open the cases and we found 984 geckos,” he said.

The Forestry Administration officials impounded the bust and said will hold it in impound until its owner pays the fine.

According to Article 48 of the law on forestry, transportation and trading of wildlife, transporting wildlife without permission from the authorities is illegal and the fines are up to two or three times the value of the wildlife in question.

“The market price for a gecko is between $5 and $15. The owner of the goods must come to pay the fine according to what the Forestry Administration officials have determined. But there is no official decision yet as to how much the fine paid by the vehicle owner should be,” Sopha said.

Should he prove to be correct, that would allow for a fine ranging somewhere between $9,840 at the lowest valuation of $5 per gecko doubled and multiplied by 984 and $44,280 for the maximum fine of $15 per gecko tripled and multiplied by 984.

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