Graft hunters declare war on corrupt officials
PHUKET: Officials from the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) today (March 9) declared war on officials suspected of involvement in the corrupt issue of land deeds or construction permits in Phuket.
Friday 9 March 2012, 07:11PM
“Phuket’s forests have been particularly encroached by officials,” said PACC Secretary-General Pol Col Dutsadee Arayawut told a press conference this morning. “It’s time to take back these national treasures and get rid of the corrupt officials.”
Pol Col Dutsadee said he was concerned about groups or networks of corrupt officials, with high-ranking officers playing “a dirty role” to getting ownership of land, which would then be sold to foreign developers.
The developers, by setting up Thai companies, or by registering 30-year leases, can then effectively take over public land, he pointed out.
“These people are selling the country to foreigners,” said Col Dutsadee. “If this is allowed to continued, Thailand will lose all its land to foreigners.”
The PACC has spent a month trawling through documents relating to these pieces of land, and officials say they believe corruption was involved in the issue of deeds and permits. Some of the plots, they noted, received deeds despite being plainly inside forest preserves.
Among the cases announced today as targets for PACC investigators:
* The land abutting Freedom Beach, already in the spotlight following two visits by Pheu Thai Party spokesman and a vice-president of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), Prompong Nopparit.
In an earlier visit, PACC officials alleged that as many as 11 officials, including former governor, now Senator, Wichai Praisa’ngob, were involved in the signing of dubious papers for the land. Sen Wichai has denied any wrongdoing, saying that he was onliged to sign papers that had gone through the correct channels.
* Two plots of land in the Kamala Hills, accessed from close to Kathu Waterfall, but overlooking Patong Bay, and registered in the name of a former vice-governor of Phuket; and another, nearby, registered to a daughter of a former permanent secretary of the Ministry of Interior.
* Nine plots of land at Nakalay, south of Kamala, believed to have received title deeds through “flying SorKor 1”. (Sor Kor 1 papers are notoriously vague. The paper for an undesirable piece of land can sometimes be “flown” to establish possession of a more attractive plot nearby.) Resorts and villas are under construction on some of the nine plots.
* The Eva Beach development in Rawai, suspected of being in breach of laws relating to building height near the shore.
Substantial amounts of land and huge amounts of money are at stake. At Freedom Beach the investigation is over 65 rai of land. The land is said to be on offer for B43 million a rai, or a total of B2.8 billion.
The three pieces of land near Kathu Waterfall total 45 rai. With trees removed they would, potentially, have panoramic views of Patong Bay. It is estimated that, were they to be sold today, they could fetch as much as B40 million a rai, or a total of B1.8 billion.
Disturbingly, the PACC found other pots totalling 155 rai in the same area that are also in the process of getting land deeds.
An investigator said the deeds in the name of the former vice-governor were issued while he was in the job. His signature appears on the deeds, as acting governor, at a time when the governor himself was absent.
All three title deeds were upgraded from SorKor 1 papers, meaning the original land holder must have proved that he or she had occupied and made use of the land before the 1954 land laws were enforced.
However, the PACC found no trace of any of the land under suspicion having ever been cultivated. In fact, officials said, it was all virgin tropical rain forest, and all of it was within the Kamala Hills Forest Reserve boundaries.
The PACC officials noted what they called “obvious evidence of abuse of power”: a track cut through the forest to give access to the three plots. Even the Director General of the Forestry Department, they pointed out, does not have the power to approve such a track.
The officials said that once they have collected enough evidence to support their suspicions, the next step will be to examine the finances of the suspect officials and their other activities during their years in their government posts.
The PACC has labeled Phuket as one of the places in Thailand worst affected by land-related corruption, the others being Phang Nga, Krabi and Koh Samui.
More revelations can be expected. The PACC has apparently only just started and is continuing undercover investigations, its eventual aim being to uncover every piece of land on Phuket that has been allocated ownership papers corruptly.