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Property Watch: Innocent until proven guilty



PHUKET: The global hypocrisy of societies, governments, parliaments, judicial bodies, law enforcement agencies and even friends and acquaintances can be a fascinating subject. Hypocrisy exists everywhere in the world, including the Phuket property market.

In recent months, there has been a notable and worthy attempt to clean up many issues here. This work is ongoing, and will take many years.

One issue that has been covered in foreign and Thai media and has a huge potential impact on property investment is land title investigations.

The hypocrisy I have witnessed in society is the ‘jump on the bandwagon’ mentality when an investigation into an alleged wrongdoing is in process. I am confident there will be others who share the view that one essential principle in any society that has laws and law-enforcement agencies is: ‘Innocent until proven guilty’.

I believe many in Phuket rely, and may have to rely, upon this principle at some point in their lives.

However, the hypocrisy of society means that when an investigation takes place, those who seek glory in the difficulties of others and wallow in self righteousness, are often quick with such statements as, ‘There’s no smoke without fire’, and, ‘Well, that always looked illegal to me’.

Let me stand up for and protect all those who deserve the protection of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, including land owners. They are not guilty until proven so.

If there is an investigation into, let’s say, 50 projects, is it likely that all 50 projects will be illegal? I think not.

The point of an investigation may be to, where a land title has been challenged or doubt has been cast, actually clean up the title and give it a clean bill of health. This is something that is an inconvenient truth for those who relish controversy. If an allegation is made, it may become necessary to prove not only that the allegation was baseless, but also to ensure that any residual mud does not stick to the innocent.

An investigation is something that will often require multiple parties to look at a land title and where it came from. It will involve many senior officials who may have knowledge of land far deeper and far more technically competent than a foreigner. Those officials may remember who owned land in the 1960s. They may remember what it was used for, and why it developed into whatever it may be today.

The way I studied isn’t that different from many: reading books; analyzing information; digging deep into a subject I thought I would specialize in.

I tried not to comment to my professors on matters I didn’t understand, though I always challenged them if I felt confident enough with my knowledge to do so.

These days it seems many have an opinion that’s not grounded in fact, but in a 10-second search on the internet.

There are lots of land title investigations in Phuket. I doubt all the titles are illegal. I also doubt that there has been wrongdoing in every case.

If we truly wish that a legal system, society or environment will improve, we should do our bit to improve it.

Desmond Hughes has been an owner and operator of his law firm in Thailand for 12 years, and is a Senior Partner at Hughes Krupica:

— Desmond Hughes


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