My ministers not involved, says premier

Source: Thai National News Bureau Public Relations Department - 18 July 2006 / Source: The Nation

WASSAYOS NGAMKHAM: Caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra rejected allegations yesterday that members of his government had encroached on forest land on Koh Samui. Mr Thaksin gave his personal guarantees that none of his ministers were linked to the scam and caretaker Natural Resources and Environment Minister Yongyuth Tiyapairat had undertaken an inspection trip to look into the allegations. Mr Thaksin insisted that the encroachers would be brought to justice, no matter who they were.

He was responding to a claim by Chaiyapan Praphasawat, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, that many Thai Rak Thai politicians were involved in forest encroachment and land speculation on the island.

Caretaker Agriculture Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan has threatened legal action over accusations of encroachment. She said she had a total of only 20 rai of land on Koh Samui, not 100 rai as reported, and all the plots were declared in her assets declaration when she took office.

She insisted that the land was acquired honestly and denied having hired proxies to hold ownership of any other plots on the island. "Members of the media also used to visit our land. I've never concealed anything," said Khunying Sudarat.

Earlier, Pian Yongnoo, chairman of the Metropolitan Electricity Authority labour union and a key member of the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy, alleged that certain Thai Rak Thai figures had illegally occupied several hundred rai on the island.

Mr Yongyuth has so far found nothing unusual to implicate members of the government with the encroachments on mountains or watershed areas around Koh Samui. Meanwhile, the wife of caretaker government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee yesterday filed a complaint with Phaholyothin police against two Thai-language newspapers and Mr Pian for defaming her.

The papers have alleged that she was involved in the development of The Peak property project on Koh Samui.

Pranee Suebwonglee said Mr Pian's allegations are baseless. His statements were published in the Manager Daily and Post Today.

Mr Yongyuth has authorised an inquiry into alleged irregularities in the issuing of land documents for The Peak project.


No evidence ministers involved in land scam

The government has no proof to show that Cabinet ministers were involved in land encroachment on Koh Samui, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Yongyuth Tiyapairat said yesterday. "There are allegations, but there is no evidence at all," Yongyuth said.

He said it was not wrong for politicians to own plots of land on Koh Samui, as long as they acquired the land legitimately and did not encroach on public land. But Yongyuth admitted there were irregularities in the issuing of land-right documents because the island had only 150,000 rai of land - and there were land-right documents for about 200,000 rai.

"We will spend 20 days surveying the whole island, after which we will tackle all land problems," the minister said.

Agriculture Minister and Thai Rak Thai Party deputy Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan and Pranee Suebwonglee, wife of government spokesman Surapong, spoke out yesterday about the allegations. Sudarat claimed that Pien Wongnoo, chairman of the Metropolitan Electricity Authority's labour union and coordinator of the People's Alliance for Democracy, committed slander by alleging some Thai Rak Thai politicians abused their authority to get title deeds for land on Koh Samui.

"My husband and I own only 20-something rai of land there and we have gradually purchased them from local people. What we buy are not land-right documents, but land-title deeds," she explained. Sudarat said she might take legal action against Pien if the report damaged her reputation. Pranee Suebwonglee, meanwhile, lodged a complaint with police against Pien and two newspapers, claiming they damaged her and her family's reputation. The papers published reports quoting Pien as saying that Pranee was behind a dubious practice that awarded land-right documents to a real-estate project on Koh Samui.

"It's groundless and I want to seek justice," Pranee said. Surapong said his family had more than 10 rai of land on Koh Samui through legitimate purchase and had no connection with the said estate project. "My wife bought the land there because she plans to launch a spa resort. She is also looking for some land on Koh Pha-ngan," Surapong said, adding they had declared their ownership of land to the National Counter Corruption Commission.

Police said they would summon the accused parties for questioning.