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Landmark victory sees illegal billion-baht property seized

Legacy Phuket Gazette



PHUKET: The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) won a landmark case this year in a 16-year battle to repossess a billion-baht property within Sirinath National Park.

“This is our first Supreme Court win,” DNP Chief Samak Donnapee told the Phuket Gazette yesterday. “It is a momentous occasion and a victory for the people of Phuket and Thailand.”

Thailand’s Supreme Court made its first ruling on the Sirinath National Park scandal in May, which saw two plots of 266 pieces of ‘black property’ deemed as illegal, Mr Samak said.

“We categorized the 745 plots of land under investigation, which comprise about 3,900 rai, into three categories: black, gray and white. There are 266 plots covering 1,683 rai that are clearly illegal, making them ‘black properties’. We expect to seize them in the near future, pending rulings from the court,” said Mr Samak. “There are 356 gray plots, comprising 2,081 rai, which are still under investigation and 93 white plots, comprising 136 rai, which are legally owned.”

Five former Sirinath National Park chiefs are implicated in the investigation: Thanapong Apaiso, Somkiet Suntornpitakkul, Sukkee Khamnuansin, Jarouy Inchan and Nonthawit Jutrabandit (story here).

Former Phuket Governor Wichai Phraisa-ngop, along with a former Phuket Land Office chief and several other officials, were named in a police complaint filed in 2014 over illegal land titles issued for 80 rai in Sirinath National Park (story here).

DNP Director Nipon Chotiban has already approved a committee to begin an investigation into the actions of the park officials. The committee is slated to meet in January.

The ruling against Sawanya Siripong will see 12 of the almost 4,000 rai of land under investigation returned to the DNP.

The two plots owned by Ms Sawanya run adjacent to the land owned by Three Dolphins Company, which owns Trisara Resort, and is also under investigation for illegal encroachment.

“Three Dolphins originally submitted a NorSor 3 Kor of 37 rai for an upgrade to a Chanote title. However, when the land was issued a Chanote, it was for 99 rai – not 37 rai. This is why we believe it was wrongfully issued,” Mr Nipon Chotibal said in 2014.

A letter is to be filed with the DNP, which will allow officers to execute a demolition order for all structures on Ms Sawanya’s property, confirmed Mr Samak.

“We will track down Ms Sawanya. She will have to pay a fine for the destruction of the forest,” Mr Samak said.

Officers have not been able to find Ms Sawanya, who they suspect might have changed her name.

“Sirinath National Park Chief Kittipat Tharapiban said he will use Ms Sawanya’s ID card number to determine if she did indeed change her name,” Mr Samak said.

Meanwhile, the director of the Department of Special Investigation’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and Environment Crime (DSI), Prawut Wongseenin, told the Gazette that his team was working on a number of cases involving alleged land encroachment on Sirinath National Park land.

The DSI is working on cases against: Three Dolphins Co Ltd (Trisara); Three Dolphins Resort; Fair and Firm Co Ltd (Phuket Arcadia); Phuket Peninsula Co Ltd (Phuket Peninsula); Pinnacle Cape Co Ltd; and The Andaman White Beach Resort. Also under investigation are individual owners: Chomchanok Suthamma, Surachai Laochuasai and Anupap Vechwanichsanong, confirmed Lt Col Prawut.

The DSI and DNP investigation has allegedly been hampered by the Land Office repeatedly refusing to hand over land registration documents to DNP officers investigating the encroachment, said DSI Director Chatchawal Suksomjit last year (story here).

“We are still gathering evidence in these cases. However, we expect to have two of them concluded by the end of November.”

— Nattha Thepbamrung


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