Land crackdown targets Thai shareholders

BANGKOK: The Ministry of Interior has ordered a crackdown on property companies attempting to circumvent Section 74 of the Land Act in order to allow foreigners to control land ownership.

Section 74 states (unofficial translation): “In the process of registering [land] possession rights and contracts between parties … officers have the power to investigate both parties and call them for questioning or have them send relevant documentary evidence as is necessary. Officers will proceed as is appropriate to the case.

“In cases where there is reason to believe that the request to register possession rights will evade the law or where there is reason to believe that land is being bought for the benefit of foreigners a request for an order from the Minister will be made. The Minister’s order will be final.”

The crackdown will target Thai partners in Thai-foreign ventures, examining their income, their professional qualifications or experience, and their credit history.

In an order dated May 15 and issued to all provincial governors, the Deputy Permanent Director of the Ministry, Sura-art Thongniramol, notes, “The Ministry of Interior has received reports that there are foreigners working with Thais or [engaging] Thais to register a company with the aim of buying and selling immovable property as a business venture.

“At the initial stage a house and land are purchased for residence or [for use as] an office and later [the aims are changed] to selling and subdividing for sale to foreigners … which is illegal.”

Provincial officials are ordered, “as protection against bypassing the law”, to examine limited companies, limited partnerships and general partnerships “having the aim of carrying out business in immovable property.”

The order continues, “If it appears that an alien holds shares or is a director, or if it is reasonable to believe that a Thai holds shares as a representative of an alien, the officers shall investigate the income of Thais holding shares, delving into the number of years [they have been] in [their] current profession, and their income. The provision of necessary evidence is required.

“If a loan was taken [by the Thai] for the purchase [of shares] evidence of the loan is required.”

The order does not specify which officials will be responsible for investigating suspect companies, nor does it set out, except in the vaguest of terms, what will happen after the “investigation”.

All it says is, “If after due investigation it can conceivably be believed that the request for registration … is to bypass the law or [it can be believed] that [those involved are buying] land for the benefit of an alien as defined in Section 74 … the officers who undertook the investigation shall forward the findings to the Land Department to await the order of the Minister.”

No deadlines are set for how long an investigation will take, or how fast the Minister will be required to deliver a judgment.

Local reaction was hard to come by. The Phuket Provincial Land Office was not aware of the new order. However, one Thai involved in the property industry, who did not wish to be named, remarked that it seemed “like a good thing, as long as the application is fair”. He added that he worried that it might be used by some “for their [own] benefit”.

Phuket News

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