THAI OFFICIALS SCARED OF ARRESTING POWERFUL FIGURES INVOLVED IN LAND CORRUPTION ON PHUKET – The island of Phuket was once the jewel in Thailand’s tourism portfolio but today much of the island has been built upon; often illegally.
Last year Phuket Authorities started looking into the illegal land grabs where powerful Thai figures were obtaining Government protected land with the help of corrupt land officials who would fraudulently make counterfeit land documents.
Over the last 10 years the price of land on Phuket has been soaring which has motivated greedy and corrupt businessmen and government officials into stealing the land and either constructing high-end villas for the foreign market or 5 Star hotels.
Phuket’s environment has certainly suffered; a once stunning island with an abundant wildlife is now a maze of poorly built infrastructure and where little or no zoning and planning permission is required for the construction of buildings. It is, without question, a mess and some are asking how something so beautiful just 20 years ago can be fully destroyed through wanton personal greed.
It’s not just the interior of the island that has been destroyed but also the beaches. Most are not safe to swim in; regardless of what Thai Officials or the glossly tour brochures might tell you.
Walk along almost any beach in Phuket and you’ll quickly discover unsightly drainage pipes that pump raw sewage from the bars, restaurants, shops, homes and hotels straight into the sea; coliform is so high in places that it exceeds European safety standards by 6,000% or more.
During last year’s investigation the Phuket Authorities identified a number of land parcels that had been illegally obtain but instead of halting construction the head of the investigation suddenly retired.
All was quiet until public outcry once again forced authorities to take action. This time the Department of Special Investigations (DSI) was drafted in to pick up where the other authority had left off and discovered even more illegal encroachment.
At one point the authorities even mentioned that a number of previous Governors were involved along with high powered politicians and wealthy elite people in Bangkok. However that was as far as it went and the authorities refused to name the individuals involved in the largest known cases.
Instead the DSI started focusing on the small businessmen; often whom had acquired land with all the right documentation and was perfectly legal. Once again suspicions surfaced that the authorities were simply attempting the trick of misdirection in order to cover up important and powerful figures.
At the beginning of 2013 further public complaints forced the Phuket authorities to take action but this time they swapped tactics and the DSI announced that it was now going to investigate all property owned by foreigners; many believing this would be an easy target and could quell any civil unrest among the locals.
While there are a vast number of homes owned by foreigners in Phuket it is actually illegal for any foreigner, under Thai law, to own land; despite what the real estate agents might say.
Many foreigners, who currently own a home in Phuket, circumnavigate the law by setting up a Thai Company. As the Thai Company becomes a legal entity it is permitted to own the land; however a foreigner may only own 49% of a Thai Company.
Legally 51% of the company and its assets must be owned by Thais and by law it must provide a benefit to the shareholders; notably a financial one.
However this is rarely the case and this is avoided by using ‘Thai Nominees’; which allows for named Thais, often the lawyer and his family members, to own the 51% with an agreement that they will never seek an interest in the shareholding.
It is a fact that if the Thai Government ever decided to claw back land in Phuket from foreign owners it would have very little trouble doing so as using ‘Thai Nominees’ is also a clear violation of Thai law.
“Why would anyone be stupid enough to purchase something they can’t own and be conned into ownership via a Thai Company by local realtors and lawyers? A home purchase is not cheap by any standard and anyone engaging in purchasing property anywhere in Thailand must seriously have a screw loose.” Anonymous, ex-realtor.
In the latest developments of the illegal land grabs the Thai Senate has now gotten involved after local authorities and even the DSI have said that they are aware of who the individuals are but they are too big and too important to touch. Any such action, in their view, would result in the murder of officials and investigators and therefore they are refusing to take action.
Retired Pol Col Sontaya Sangphow was recently in Phuket to assess the current situation and has vowed to go to war with the ‘powerful’ in order to claw back encroachment government land.
“We are concerned that District Officers are ‘unable’ to arrest the big guys behind land encroachment. We are also concerned about the safety of the officers carrying out the investigations.” Pol Col Sontaya
To date not one of the known high powered individuals have had any action taken against them and indeed continue to build resorts and high-end villas in order to profit from unsuspecting foreigners.
There are conspiracy theories, that are not too far-fetched, that if the Government did initiate an investigation into illegally owned properties by foreigners, which would most certainly result in confiscation, it is these individuals that would end up confiscating the properties only to turn around and sell them on to other gullible foreigners.
Sontaya Sangphow is now suggesting that the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) become involved and takes over the investigation and arrests those who think they are ‘untouchable’.
The ISOC reports directly to the Prime Minister’s office and is part of the Thai military that deals with issues of national security but it is unclear how many those running ISOC are not corrupt and would be willing to look the other way if threatened or simply paid off.
Thailand is soaked in corruption and it touches every facet of society and it is when corruption becomes so entrenched that it produces a society that is simply unable to point the figure at anyone for fear of either a violent reprisal or having the finger pointed straight back.
This internal issue is just one of the critical factors facing Thailand’s future economic growth and no doubt one of their main concerns right now is complying with U.N requirements to clean up its appalling human trafficking, slavery and forced prostitution recorded.
The U.S recently refused to provide Thailand with any further ‘pardons’ on these issues and if they fail to make significant headway this year they will be listed as the worlds No.1 offender of human rights abuses.
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