Thai officials in trouble over illegal land deeds

Thai officials in trouble over illegal land deeds

THAILAND - Sixteen government officials are set to face negligence charges for their alleged involvement in two land scandals - covering 370 rai in Phuket province, the Royal Forestry Department revealed at a press conference yesterday.

Eight officials in environmental fields were allegedly involved in the illegitimate issuance of land title deeds for plots totalling 70 rai, worth Bt2 billion ($78 million), on Freedom Beach at Nak Kerd National Park, department head Theerapat Prayurasiddhi said.

"The first two [officials] were from the Forestry Department and six others from the Land Department," he said, updating progress on land retrieval following the National Council for Peace (NCPO) policy to crack down on encroachment on state land.

Another eight officials were allegedly involved in the illegitimate issuance of Sor Kor 1 land possession documents.

Theerapat said the documents could be used to apply for title deeds for over 300 rai of land worth Bt6 billion in the Kao Ruak-Khao Muang National Park. The accused officials had been working on illegitimate issuing of land deeds and documents since 1987, causing damage worth Bt100 billion, he said.

During in-depth investigation of the two cases, forestry officials collaborated with the Payak Prai Division, whose specialist focus is on investigating forest issues.

Theerapat said the investigative team planned to forward the cases to the Royal Thai Police for further investigation by October.

The land encroachment probes are part of the NCPO's top priorities - to recover land seized by influential groups.

So far, about 50,000 rai of land has been retrieved nationwide.

Sukhothai province had the most land that had been encroached on at 4,000 rai, followed by Lampang with 3,600 rai and Saraburi with 3,100 rai, he said. "We aim to probe all alleged land encroachment cases nationwide," he added.

Yesterday morning, an 850-strong team of Army, forestry officials, police and volunteers started demolishing of some 50 homes, plus 100 other structures at an oil palm plantation in Plai Phraya district in Krabi province, where 100 people had illegitimately set up a settlement.

The 10,000-rai block belongs to the state but was rented to a private company for a plantation. When the concession contract expired, people continued to intrude on 2,000-rai of the block, and had remained for years.

The residents, who didn't resist officials, were taken to the district hall to face charges of encroaching on forest land. The officials said it would take three days to completely demolish the illegal buildings.

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