120 teams of investigators were expected to arrive in Phuket at the end of October. They will not now be coming.
The teams were ordered set up by Damrong "the Demolisher" Pidech, the former director of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP).
He retired at the end of September, but made the point, before leaving, of ordering his subordinates to continue the probe, which has already named a variety of high-profile property developments and five-star resorts as being suspected of being built on land encroaching illegally annexed from the park.
Now, however, the MNRE Minister, Preecha Rengsomboon, has ordered Reungchai Prayoonvech, acting director of the DNP, and Boonchob Suthamanaswong, director of Royal Forestry Department, to suspend the investigation.
He told them that the Cabinet wants to “help local people to earn their living in those land plots, especially those plots where it has not yet been clarified whether they encroach on national parks or forest reserves”.
This is not the first time the politicians have stepped in to scotch such investigations, especially when they involved MPs who owned businesses on land that had allegedly been encroached on.
The case of the Baan Talay Mok Resort in Prachinburi Province, which Mr Damrong ordered demolished after he concluded that it encroached on the Tap Lan National Park, brought things to a head in July.
The national newspaper, Daily News, reported in July that a mobile Cabinet meeting in Surin Province discussed relieving Mr Damrong of his post.
Many commentators were taken aback, as Mr Damrong was known to be a staunch supporter of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The 120 teams of six investigators each should have arrived in Phuket on October 29 to spend 10 days on the probe but then came the order from the minister.
The government has failed so far to appoint a successor to Mr Damrong. There are four candidates: Reungchai Prayoonvech, one of Mr Damrong’s deputies and currently acting director of the DNP; Kasemsan Jinnawaso, Inspector General of the Department of Resources and Environment, who was director of the DNP three years ago; Chonlatit Suratsawadee, deputy director of the Royal Forestry Department; and Manopat Huamuangkaew, another deputy director of the DNP.
Attempts today to reach Mr Damrong and the chief of Sirinart Park, Chaweepap Cheewatham, for comment of the suspension of the probe were unsuccessful.