Supreme Court upholds SorPorKor ruling

PHUKET CITY: (Nation/Gazette): The Supreme Court yesterday confirmed an appellate decision to evict members of the Tantiwit family from a 69-rai plot designated for landless farmers in Kathu.

“The national-land-reform [SorPorKor] program is reserved for farmers. Non-farming individuals are not qualified to utilize land-reform plots,” the High Court said in its verdict, read out at the Phuket Provincial Court Building.

The Supreme Court ruling was the third against alleged land grabs by Phuket tycoons who were previously granted plots under the SorPorKor program, created to make state land available for use by poor, landless farmers.

When it was learned in 1995 that many wealthy Phuket families had been granted SorPorKor land rights, the resulting scandal later brought down the Democrat-led government of Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai.

Two other wealthy landowners who lost land-usage rights in Supreme Court decisions handed down this year include businessman Charearn Thavornwongwongse and Tossaporn Thepabutr, who is running for a Phuket parliamentary seat for the Democrat Party.

For the Tantiwit case, the prosecution petitioned the eviction of businessman Banlue Tantiwit on the grounds that he had wrongfully declared himself a farmer in order to put his name on the land reform program.

K. Banlue, former president of the Phuket Provincial Administration Organization (OrBorJor), died of a heart attack in October 2001.

His heiress, Arunrat Sawatthong, inherited the plot and thus became defendant.

The defense argued that the original owner sold the rights for land utilization to the Tantiwit family in 1980.

After the land-reform law was enacted, the plot was within the area designated for redistribution. The family then suspended its plan to petition for a land-right document and allowed the plot to be part of the land-reform program without contest.

K. Banlue applied for land utilization of his own plot by submitting his settlement on the land as evidence.

Land reform authorities had verified his farming credentials before granting him the right to settle on and utilize the plot.

But the high court said the key issue was whether the defendant was actually entitled to the land-reform program.

A source close to the Tantiwit family said they they did not wish to comment on the ruling to the media.

The family’s business interests include the Patong Resort and Patong Tower in Kathu.

Phuket News
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