Kata Rocks

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Luxury villa 'encroaches on park'
PHUKET: A huge villa next to Trisara, where supermodel Kate Moss reportedly once stayed, is being investigated on suspicion that it, too, encroaches on the Sirinart Marine National Park. It has been added to the list of places being investigated by the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP), bringing the number of properties under investigation to 11. On orders from DNP Director Damrong Pidetch, officials today (August 26) visited the property, which consists of a luxury residence with swimming pool and tennis court. The house is owned by Frenchman Bernard Gaultier, who is also an investor in The Pavilions resort, in the hills overlooking Layan Beach. Ms Moss once reportedly stayed at the villa after paparazzi staked out the entrance of Trisara. Although huge, the house is very secluded and can be reached only by boat or via a footpath from the end of Soi Layan 4. Sermyod Sommun, the Director of Conservation Operation Region 16 (Chiang Mai), whose team is responsible for the investigation into Trisara, said the property was discovered during the Trisara investigation. It sits on a piece of land with a NorSor3 paper issued in 1984 – three years after the declaration of the Sirinart Marine National Park. “We found the NorSor3 has no precursor papers." Normally a NorSor 3 would be issued only on the basis of a previous SorKor1 occupation paper. “Instead, the land paper was issued based on a survey by an official, a method that cannot be applied for any land inside the boundaries of a national park,” Mr Sermyod said. “The leads us to believe that the NorSor3 may not be legal.” In addition, there is a pier jutting out into the sea from the property, which officials suspect was built without permission. After their visit today, DNP officials will bring charges against bureaucrats involved in the issue of the land paper. The investigation will also expand to the Thai owner of the land, to see if he will “acknowledge” that the land paper was issued illegally. As for the investigation into Trisara, Mr Sermyod said the DNP would first take action over parts of the property that extend beyond the boundaries shown in the land deeds. These extensions are believed to include swimming pools attached to several of the villas. Currently, the investigation team is trying to come to a clear conclusion as to whether the land papers were issued legally. Mr Sermyod noted that Trisara’s deeds were upgraded from a 20-rai SorKor1. The investigation team says it finds it suspicious that the SorKor1 apparently expanded in area to 200 rai on the current deeds. On Friday, speaking at an Amcham seminar on hotels and the environment, Trisara GM Anthony Lark hit back against the investigation. He said that the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for Trisara had been particularly strict because the resort was in a forest area. “Now we are being attacked by the same people who approved our EIA,” he said. Criminal charges have already been filed against La Colline Villa Development, the adviser to the DNP’s Crime Suppression Section, Sunthorn Watcharakuldilok, revealed today. He said a report was filed with the police just over a week ago, on August 17. He said the company was charged with encroaching into a national park, with 9 rai of land extending beyond the boundaries of the development as they appear on the deed. Another three companies are expected to be charged soon with similar offences, he said. The teams investigated these three properties are looking for evidence to support their belief that each was built on land with deeds based on “flying” SorKor 1 papers. (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.) “We believe that the land papers for most of these properties may have been issued by the same group of officials, as most of the deeds were issued between 1977 and 1992,” said Mr Sunthorn. Meanwhile, the new Chief of the Sirinart Marine National Park, Cheewapap Cheewatham, has arrived from Mukdaharn Province to replace the previous chief, who was transferred out on Mr Damrong’s orders after just a month. Mr Chaweepap said the investigation of cases in Phuket would be more difficult than in the Thap Lan National Park in Thailand’s northeast, which has been a hotspot of land encroachment resulting in the demolition of nine resorts last month. “Thap Lan National Park was encroached by individuals who had no land papers. But in the Sirinart, individuals have land papers, which makes the investigation much more time-consuming,” said Mr Cheewapap. He added that the value of Phuket property developments is a lot higher than in Thap Lan, so the cost of damage from encroachment would be higher. “Apart from the 11 property developments under investigation, we believe there are several smaller pieces of land [that encroach on the park],” he said.