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Phuket Court orders DNP, officials to pay damages over national park land probe

Phuket Court orders DNP, officials to pay damages over national park land probe

PHUKET: The Phuket Court yesterday (May 4) ordered the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) and two of its officials to pay a total of B1.9 million in damages for the highly publicised land probe that accused several property owners of encroaching on Sirinath National Park, on Phuket’s west coast.

landpropertycrimeconstructioncorruptionnatural-resourcestourism
By Eakkapop Thongtub

Friday 5 May 2017, 12:30PM


Former Sirinath Park Chief Cheewapap Cheewatha (right) leads the investigation into the alleged encroachment in 2012. Photo: The Phuket News / file

Former Sirinath Park Chief Cheewapap Cheewatha (right) leads the investigation into the alleged encroachment in 2012. Photo: The Phuket News / file

The court ruled that plaintiffs Noon Co Ltd, Frenchman Bernard Gaulthier and Pornsak Panmat had legal right to the land on which the multi-million-baht luxury villa “Baan Farang” had been built on.

The villa is located on seven rai next to the Trisara resort and has 360-degree views of the national park, which as a marine national park extends nearly a kilometre offshore (see map here).

The three plaintiffs sued for damages of B45 million and filed their claim against former DNP Director-General Damrong Pidech, who led the probe (see story here), as well as six other officials.

However, the court found that the DNP is to pay only B1.5mn in damages, but also 7.5 % interest per year since the day of the DNP’s initial claims against the plaintiffs, which the court said was Aug 26, 2012.

The court cleared Mr Damrong and four other officials of any wrongdoing, but ruled that former Sirinath Park Chief Cheewapap Cheewatha and former Advisor the DNP Director-General Sunthorn Watcharakul Dilok each pay B200,000 in damages, bringing the total to B1.9mn.

As Sirinath Park Chief at the time, Mr Cheewapap led much of the initial investigations into the alleged encroachment in 2012.

Witoon Detpramuanphon, who currently serves as Chief of Sirinath National Park, told The Phuket News, “I only became chief of the park at the end of last year, but I know some details about this case.

“This case is not over yet. The DNP has to right to appeal the ruling and can even take this case to the Supreme Court,” he said.

“I have to check with the department what they want to do next. I am ready to work on this,” he added.

Mr Witoon said he felt despondent about the court’s decision. “I admit that sometimes it is discouraging that officials are sued,” he said.

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“However, I have to be careful in working on cases such as this to make sure that justice is served,” Mr Witoon noted.

“Other investigations into illegal possession of land in Sirinath National Park will continue. Some cases are still under investigation and more than 10 cases are with the DSI (Department of Special investigation),” he added.

Former DNP Chief Mr Damrong ordered as mass investigations into 11 properties accused of being built inside the park in July 2012, including “Baan Farang”. (See story here.)

At that time he explained that the claimants must be able to prove that ownership papers existed before the national park was established in 1981.

In addition, they must prove that the original SorKor 1 papers were issued before 1964, the year when the authorities announced that SorKor 1 papers could no longer be upgraded to title deeds in what was then a protected area and is now the Sirinath Marine National Park.

Mr Damrong initially set up a committee to investigate Sirinath Park encroachment in 2006, but he ordered this particular investigation into the 11 plots after visiting Phuket on May 29, 2012 and learning that a rai of land could be worth between B30 million and B50 million.

Mr Damrong alleged the papers for the land claimed inside the park boundaries were obtained through corruption. (See story here.)

However, by November 2012, Mr Damrong was removed from post as DNP Chief and the investigation was killed by his superiors. (See stories here and here.)

Meanwhile, DSI investigations into the morass of corrupt officials illegally issuing land papers in Phuket took a hit after former Phuket Land Office Chief Thawatchai Anukul was found hanged dead in his cell at the DSI’s headquarters in Bangkok in August last year within hours of his arrest. (See story here.)

Thawatchai was a fugitive of 13 years wanted for illegally issuing at least hundreds of illegal land titles during his three years as Phuket Land Office Chief ending in 2003. (See story here.)

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