Royal Forestry Department (RFD) Director Chonlatit Suratsawadee and Deputy Director Atthaphon Charoenchansa led the raids.
A team of RFD officers headed by Cheewapap Cheewatam first carried out a raid on an area in the Nakkerd Hills in Karon.
Mr Cheewapap has previously served as Chief of Sirinath National Park, but resigned his post in 2014 amid a constant stream of death threats against him over his investigations into encroachment onto state land there. (See story here.)
Upon raiding the area, officers were met by large iron gates at the entrance with a notice reading “Private area no entry”.
The plot is claimed by Wanwisa Sangsri, who holds a SorKor 1 land document for the site. Officials believe the SorKor 1 was issued illegally.
Mr Cheewapap said, “The 20-rai area in question was purchased by Ms Wanwisa in 2009. This area within the Nakkerd Hills was declared a forest reserve in 1973. Therefore, it is impossible for Ms Wanwisa to own this land.
“An official from the RFD Phuket office changed the document to state that is outside of the forest reserve. That official is now under investigation for his actions and the investigation will be concluded soon,” he said.
“Moreover, a former Phuket Land official who was arrested by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and died whilst being held in custody was involved in the issuing of this land title,” Mr Cheewapap.
Mr Cheewapap did not name the now-deceased former Phuket Land Office official he was specifically talking about, but former Phuket Land official Tawatchai Anukul was found hanged in a DSI cell in Bangkok in August last year.
Tawatchai’s death came amid high speculation that he was killed to silence him, as he had been found to be involved in corruptly issuing false land documents amounting to billions of baht. (See story here.)
Mr Cheewapap noted yesterday that if the area in the hills above Karon could be sold, it would fetch in the region of B1 billion.
“I believe that at some point the area would be sold on to foreign business persons,” he said.
“The RFD will take action against Ms Wanwisa and the land deed will be revoked,” Mr Cheewapap concluded.
In the second raid, on a 36-rai plot of land in Kamala, which is also part of the Nakkerd Hills, the Zipline Max attraction was found to be operating. The company is registered to a Susaran Tophan, 56.
Officials investigating the site have found that the area encroached on the forest reserve, and in addition, the zipline attraction had been built without the necessary permission, it was reported yesterday.
Mr Cheewapap said, “The owner of this zipline also owns Zipline Max in Chiang Mai. The RFD has already taken legal action against that business.
“Most of the customers at Zipline Max in Phuket are Chinese and they pay between B2,500-B4,800 to enjoy the attraction,” he said.
“This kind of business is well hidden in the forest. It is not easy to check from aerial photographs.
“Legal action will be taken against the owner and the attraction will be demolished,” he added.
Mr Cheewapap explained that there were a further six ziplines operating in Phuket which are under investigation for their legality: Patong Zipline, Phuket Paradise and four unnamed zipline attractions, one of which is said to overlap on SorPorKor (state-owned land reserved for agricultural use by poor farmers only).
“The operator of Phuket Paradise claims that 30 trees used for his attraction are rented from the owner of the land. It is impossible for trees set within a forest reserve to be rented out. Legal action will be taken against all those involved,” Mr Cheewapap said.