Huge illegal sand mine raided
PHUKET: Thailand’s Department of Special Investigations (DSI) raided a sand mine in the Tai Meuang district of Phang Nga yesterday said to be worth hundreds of millions of baht.
Tuesday 31 July 2012, 06:21PM
Sixty officers were led on the raid by Pol Col Yanpol Yangyeun, DSI deputy director.
The raid also inluded officials from from the Phang Nga Natural Resources and Environment Office; the Office of Special Operations chief Pol Col Paisit Wongmeuang; Regional Special Case Operations chief Pol Lt Col Karawach Panprapakorn, and Consumer and Environment Case Control head Pol Lt Col Prawoot Wongsinil.
Also involved were naval commandos and naval inspectors, acting under the authority of Region 3 Fleet commander Vice Adm Ratorn Kajitasuworn, and Phang Nga provincial police commander Pol Maj Gen Apiraks Hongtong.
Raiders, divided into five units, burst into the 5,000-rai sand mine in the Klong Toong Maprao Forest in tambon Lam Kaen Moo 4 of Tai Meuang district.
Seized as evidence were 10 earth-movers and seven sand pumps. Twenty-eight people were arrested, including an unidentified senior police sergeant major attached to the Phang Nga Police Investigations Division, temporarily assigned to the Tai Meuang police.
He was grabbed while engaged in overseeing work at the mine for an unidentified “big investor”.
Ten 10-wheel dump trucks were seized but later released because they were found to belong to private individuals.
Investigators said owners of the mine include politicians at the local and national levels, provincial police officals and businessmen – none were identified in the report. The mine reportedly averaged 500 deliveries of sand daily, mostly to construction sites in Phuket.
“The DSI was asked to investigate this operation by the Phang Nga Natural Resources and Environment Office,” said Pol Col Yanpol.
“We were informed that the mine had been operating without a permit, causing damage, but was allowed to work unhindered because its owners had created a network of such influence that no single unit of government could close them down. So we had to join forces to arrest them.”
He said the mine was sophisticated, using pumps to suck up the sand, then sterilizing and washing it, and delivering it to customers. “They have been operating a long time,” Pol Col Yanpol said.
Col Yanpol said the evidence, those arrested and the records would be sent to the Tai Meuang Investigations Division, adding that the DSI “will not let go of this case, because influential figures are behind it.
“Just one of the sand pits is worth an estimated 100 million baht; together they must be worth many hundreds of millions.
DSI Regional Special Case Operations chief Pol Lt Col Karawach said the DSI would request aircraft from the Navy for use in surveying whether more such operations exist in the Andaman seacoast area, and to follow up on the closure of this mine.
“If there are others, or if this one opens again, we’ll make plans to close them.”
Gen Apiraks said evidence in this case would be turned over to the provincial deputy police commander for safe-keeping.
A source with the team of raiders revealed that the mine had been able to operate so long without interference because “senior civil servants at the district level – some serving five years, some nine, without being shuffled off – have been acting as the operators’ eyes and ears.
“Responsibility for closing down such illegal concerns lies with officials in the Interior Ministry and the Forestry Department, but they have never interfered with the perpetrators at all.”