The move is the latest twist in the fight over the construction of the The Peaks Residences condo development on the hill behind the resort.
Mr Amnuay made it clear at a meeting at the Karon Municipality offices yesterday that the objective of the meeting was to investigate the construction of The Peaks Residences on the hill – and the construction of a building over the Bang Rak Canal near the beachfront.
Mr Amnuay was careful to not name the Katathani resort, which is the only resort along the Kata Noi beachfront, and hence the only possible owner of any buildings that may affect Bang Rak Canal near the waterfront.
The Bang Rak Canal runs from the site of the still-incomplete The Peaks condo project, of which any ongoing construction has been ordered to stop, down the hill to the bay across resort land.
The investigation into the resort land came at the request of Karon Municipality, Mr Amnuay explained, while Karon Mayor Tawee Thongcham and Wanchai Sae-Tan, Chief of the Karon Municipality office of Public Works and Country & Town Planning, both sat present in the meeting.
“Due to a complaint to investigate the The Peaks Residence project, a luxury condominium located on Kata Noi hill, invading upstream protected forests with invalid construction permit and causing trouble to those who live below, especially during heavy rain causing flooding problems, Karon Municipality is therefore calling for an inspection of the Bang Rak Canal, which receives water that flows down the hill and used to flow through rice fields and into the sea,” he said.
“The canal used to the flood the lower land regularly, this problem occurred before The Peaks Residence project start in 2018,” he said.
“Villagers in the Kata Noi area filed a complaint to the Phuket Damrongtham Center, requesting to inspect the Bang Rak Canal and the public interest, and filed a complaint to the Department of Lands,” he added.
“Therefore, the Phuket Governor has appointed a working group to investigate the The Peaks and the Bang Rak Canal issue at the same time. The investigation is to be completes within 30 days (See story here),” he said
Despite the Katathani being long well known for hiring many people from local families living in the Kata Noi area, Mr Amnuay yesterday claimed that, “In the case of Bang Rak Canal, the villagers of Kata Noi Beach also complained to the Land Department, requesting to inspect the land of a famous hotel at Kata Noi Beach area that the title deeds issued (for the land where the hotel is now) covered an area believed to be unclaimed (and unused) land.”
MISSING LAND DEEDS AND VAGARIES
Regardless of initially claiming that the meeting was being held to “set the framework for the investigation”, Mr Amnuay yesterday revealed that the Department of Lands had already appointed a working group to inspect the land ownership documents, and that the working group had already held discussions twice so far – and already confirmed that the land in question is owned by the hotel among the nine land deeds the hotel holds.
“The land deed in question covers an area of approximately two rai and includes the unused land in the deed,” he explained, without elaborating on how large the actual plot of unused land was.
The unused land was located between two other plots that had NorSor 3 Kor land documents issued for them, Mr Amnuay said, adding that so far the Lands Office investigation had failed to locate any land original document issued for the unused land.
GHOSTS OF PHUKET LAND DEALS
Mr Amnuay also told the meeting, “In addition, the new land title was issued by Thawatchai Anukul, a former Phuket land official, and the Department of Lands has ordered to revoke all land deeds that were issued illegally by Mr Thawatchai.”
Thawatchai Anukul, a native of Thalang district in Phuket, was Chief of the Phuket Land Office from 200 to 2003 and accused of having illegally issued land rights documents for more than 1,000 plots of land in Phuket, Phang Nga and Surat Thani. (See story here.)
After being on the run for 13 years, he was finally arrested in Nonthaburi, on the outskirts of Bangkok in Aug 2016.
Hours later he was found dead, hanged in his holding cell at the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) headquarters in Bangkok.
The suspicious circumstances surrounding his death – including marks on his body, a ruptured liver and claims by the DSI that the security cameras specifically outside his cell were not working at the time of his death – saw a official top-level inquiry ordered.
At the time of his death, speculation was rife that Thawatchai was murdered to silence him.
After name-dropping Thawatchai, Mr Amnuay quickly added, “But at the same time there is protection of landowners if evidence is brought to show the acquisition of the said land.”
He then said, “In this regard, it will be proposed to the Land Department to revoke the said deed of the plot within this September.
“If the Department of Land issues an order to revoke the said plots of land will return the land title deed to its original state and the hotel’s total conversion deed must also be revoked.
“However, it is up to the Director-General of the Department of Land to decide whether to revoke the deed or not.
“All of this is just a proposal from the working group to investigate the facts,” Mr Amnuay said.
“At this time, it is not possible to determine whether the area between the two plots covered by the NorSor 3 Kor deed would be Bang Rak Canal or not because the complaint does not specify that is a public canal, but is listed as unused land, which must be inspected by looking at the aerial map.
“And we must also be fair to the landowner because at the moment, the land is still considered as a deed.
“Therefore, in order to obtain the complete facts, information must be inquired from villagers living in that area for a long time and we must check whether it is public land or not,” he added.
Mr Amnuay yesterday presented aerial survey photos of the area taken more than 50 years ago to be used in the investigation.
“Karon Municipality has compiled a collection of aerial images taken by the Royal Thai Survey Department in 1967 which are to be compared with the current deed map since the title deed of the said plot does not have a public canal marked on it. We will question people living in the area about this as well,” he said.
Mr Amnuay said the investigation into the resort land was “only fair” as his office had been ordered to investigate the section of the Bang Rak Canal runs through the Peaks Residences project.
“It must be carried out from the beginning (sic) of the canal, which was formerly a rice field, to the beach area for clarity because if we examine only the area where there is construction, we fear that it will be accused of being unfair,” he said.
“For this investigation we must check the whole length of Bang Rak Canal, not just where the canal runs through The Peaks project.”
The Peaks Residences project has found itself mired in an escalating spiral of controversy since Bangkok MP Sira Jenjaka went public to report alleged death threats over the project last month. (See story here.)
Manassanan Nararattanawee, the CEO of Kata Beach Co Ltd, as the owner of The Peak Residence development, held a press conference on Aug 21 to issue a public statement of assurance that the company was following the law, and will continue to abide by the law in any ensuing rulings. (See story here.)
Yet Cheewapap Cheewatham, a former Chief of Sirinath National Park who now serves as the Director of the Strategic and Forest Protection Division of the Royal Forest Department, in February last year confirmed that an investigation was ongoing into whether the 416-unit development that at that time was slated to be built in the hills overlooking Phuket’s Kata Noi Bay was on protected forest land. (See story here.)
The investigations followed a series of protests by local residents led by Katathani resort owner Sombat Atiset, President of the Katathani Hotels Group and founder of the Local Love Foundation, which filed the formal complaint against the project.
Construction at The Peaks Residences was halted in March after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha specifically ordered an investigation into the project, resulting in Lt Gen Kittisak Boonsuk, Deputy Director of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Operations Coordination Center 4, leading a team of military officers from Bangkok to Phuket to inspect the site. (See story here.)