The companies are mostly tourism and travel-related businesses and companies involved in real estate, Mr Sinit explained in a release issued on Tuesday (Nov 22).
The in-depth investigation is being conducted with the assistance of the Department of Special investigation (DSI), which will probe 148 companies in total, Mr Sinit noted.
Officials are ready to prosecute to the full extent of the law, Mr Sinit warned.
Of the 148 firms under investigation, in addition to the 140 in Phuket, four are in Chiang Mai, three are in Surat Thani and one is in Bangkok, Mr Sinit said.
Of the 140 businesses in Phuket under investigation 87 are real estate businesses, 42 are travel-related businesses, two are actual hotel hotel and resort businesses and nine are service-related businesses.
Deputy Minister Sinit ordered the Department of Business Development to investigate the actual persons shareholders listed as per their situations both before and after they were registered as shareholders in the company.
“Most offenses relating to holding shares on behalf of foreigners [as ‘nominees’] are caused by Thai people accepting benefits or consenting or legal advisors suggesting to avoid the law,” Mr Sinit said.
“Nominees is a national problem that affects the economy and the image of the country at large. If this problem cannot be solved, it will cause Thailand to lose economic opportunities and lose a lot of income,” he added.
“We have ordered the Department of Business Development to define guidelines for preventing nominee businesses both before and after the registration of a juristic person. That is, before registering as a shareholder, applicants will be required to submit documents issued by banks to certify or show the financial status of Thai partners or shareholders who invest or hold shares in the company together with foreigners,” Mr Sinit explained.
“This is to show credibility that Thai people who invest have financial status and can invest by themselves and later be registered as a shareholder,” he said.
The investigations will focus on Thai people who hold shares on behalf of foreigners or have “encouraged foreigners to conduct business by avoiding compliance with the Foreign Business Act. B.E.”, Mr Sinit said
“The Department of Business Development will prepare reports to identify suspected nominee shareholders and set up an annual project plan for further in-depth examination,” Mr Sinit said.
“In some cases, the DBD may work with partner agencies such as the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), the Tourist Police. Department of Tourism, among others,” he added.
The campaign to identify and prosecute those found of involved in registering nominee shareholders, will continue Mr Sinit warned.
“The offense is punishable by imprisonment for not more than three years or a fine from B100,000 to B1 million, or both. And there is also a daily fine of B10,000-50,000 per day until the violation is stopped,” he said.
“Finally, I would like to remind Thai people who help, support or hold shares on behalf of foreigners so that foreigners can conduct business by avoiding or violating the law, that Thai people who hold shares on behalf of foreigners in the form of nominees, including company directors, are also liable,” he added.