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Phuket officials, DSI deny celebrity status spurs ‘special attention’ in armed gang island land grab probe

Phuket officials, DSI deny celebrity status spurs ‘special attention’ in armed gang island land grab probe

PHUKET: Officials have leapt into action to investigate claims of encroachment and illegal cutting down of trees on Koh Naka Noi, east of Phuket, based solely on a Facebook post by Thai celebrity Puri Hiranprueck.

By The Phuket News

Thursday 7 April 2016, 02:23PM

Thai actor Puri Hiranprueck speaks to the press on Koh Naka Noi in December, when he filed his initial complaint of encroachment on the island. Photo: The Phuket News / file

Thai actor Puri Hiranprueck speaks to the press on Koh Naka Noi in December, when he filed his initial complaint of encroachment on the island. Photo: The Phuket News / file

However, they have yet to indicate they will investigate the actor’s claims of armed gunmen carrying out the foray, despite Thalang Police receiving a formal complaint of the incident.

Within 24 hours of Mr Puri posting his claims on Facebook, Phuket Governor Chamroen Tipayapongtada assigned Vice Governor Chokdee Armornwat to investigate only the encroachment claims.

Without delay, V/Gov Chokdee led a team of officials to inspect the area on Koh Naka Noi in question this morning (April 7).

“I have not received a formal complaint from Mr Puri about this. Just the social media posting, only,” Gov Chamroen confirmed.

Gov Chamroen denied that Mr Puri and the Hiranprueck family were receiving special treatment due to their social status.

“Mr Puri’s case is not more special than others, but this case has generated a lot of interest on social media and it follows on from the previous investigation,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has confirmed it is taking action based solely on the Facebook post, but also only on the claims of encroachment and illegal deforestation.

“The DSI’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and Environment Crime is investigating the claims now, but we are focusing only on crimes that affect the environment,” DSI Deputy Spokesman and Director of the Special Cases Management Centre Worranan Srilum confirmed to The Phuket News.

Mr Worranun also assured that the fast action was not due to the celebrity status of the claims.

“Even if ordinary people post complaints of crimes like this, it is important – we will follow up,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter that he (Mr Puri) is an actor. We do not focus who files the complaint, we focus on what the complaint is about.

“It also doesn’t matter that the complaint was posted on social media. We do our own work, we don’t work in reaction to social media,” Mr Worranun added.

Despite Mr Worranun’s comments, Pol Lt Col Prawut Wongseenin, Director of the DSI’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and Environment Crime, will seek permission to invoke the much-feared Section 44 of the Interim Constitution – giving broad powers of arrest and seizure – to move forward with their investigation, reports the Bangkok Post. (See story here.)

Yet Lt Col Prawut told The Phuket News today that his office was only pursuing the environmental crimes of encroachment and illegal deforestation – not the claim that armed gunmen were involved.

“Yes, I know about it (Mr Puri’s Facebook post), but I receive information and evidence all the time about the current investigation into encroachment on the island, and we are working on it,” he said.

The DSI launched an investigation into alleged encroachment on Koh Naka Noi in December after Mr Puri filed a complaint about suspect land titles that were issued for plots on the island that were reportedly sold off for B42 million. (See story here.)


The DSI subsequently presented to the press land documents that allegedly showed suspect origins of the titles used to claim the land that Mr Puri said “must be public land”.

Investigators also never clarified how private ownership of the land in question might affect the 60-odd rai Mr Puri says he inherited from his grandfather.

Meanwhile, Col Prawut said he had “no idea” about armed gunmen on Naka Noi Island. “That’s the police’s job to find out. They can investigate that by themselves.” he said.

Like the other key officials involved, Col Prawut denied social status as any form of motivation for the rapid response to Mr Puri’s claims.

“Mr Puri’s post and his personal status has no bearing on the issue, and has no effect on his claim to land on Koh Naka Noi. The complaint is about the environmental crime of illegally cutting down trees, and that is what I am focusing on,” he said.

Yet Thalang Police Chief Chanuchan Cholsuwat told The Phuket News this morning, “We received a complaint from Puri Hiranprueck about more than 10 men on the island (allegedly cutting down trees on public land), and his presumption that they might have weapons.”

However, he confirmed that Thalang Police will not be investigating whether or not an armed gang were carrying weapons on public land.

“This case is about the land, so we are waiting on the Department of Land Phuket Office to conclude their investigation before we take any action,” he said.

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