Illegal properties on beachside sites on the Thai island of Phuket are to be investigated as officials arrive on the island to clamp down on corruption and illegal land deals.
The Secretary of the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission, Colonel Dusadi Arayawut, and the Permanent Secretary of the Natural Resources and Environment Department, Chote Trachoo, are heading the in inquiry.
They will be looking into corrupt payments involving local officials and properties without proper planning permission or that are built too close to the beach.
There is concern that developers, many of them foreign, have either obtained planning permission by paying corrupt officials, or have built illegally.
Suspicious property titles are likely to be scrutinised in Phuket and Phang Nga, particularly in Kathu and Kamala and the team will also look at construction that has encroached on land in public forests and properties built over Phuket’s 80 metre height limit.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said that hundreds of rai of public land valued at billions of baht have fallen into private hands through corrupt collusion between powerful individuals and local government officials.
A former vice governor of Phuket is likely to be inspected amid suspicions that a resort is being built on public forest land. The daughter of a former permanent secretary of the Interior Ministry also lays claim to another large chunk of 18 plots totalling 200 rai within what appears to be protected forest land.
‘The appropriation of public land really intensified after the 2004 tsunami when foreign investors came to Phuket in large numbers and real estate prices rose rapidly. Some of this deception involves foreign investors who have structured Thai companies. Our investigation has just started and we expect to find out a lot more as we progress,’ said Colonel Arayawut.
‘There is no limit to the scale of the investigation and no protection for any of those involved, no matter how powerful or influential,’ he added.
Investigators released maps that highlight the areas they are examining. They include three pieces of land near Kathu Waterfall, with a total area of 45 rai, would be worth 1.6 billion baht once cleared for the views of Patong Bay at current prices. Other sections lie near Nakalay, north of Patong, and on Nakkerd Hill, which is topped by the Big Buddha.
They are also looking at property valued at 2.8 billion baht as a resort development fronting Freedom beach, south of Patong and the Eva Beach development in Rawai, which is nearing completion, but where authorities say height regulations governing shorefront limits have been ignored.
Trachoo said there appeared to be more corruption and real estate misdeeds on Phuket than in any other province in Thailand. He added that the next step will be a closer investigation of the personal finances of the officials suspected of being involved in endorsing potentially illegal land ownership transfers and beachside building.