Source: The Nation - 20 July 2006

Preliminary findings of a Koh Samui land probe have concluded that less than half of a disputed tract had been legally purchased. The fate of the controversial plot on the island's north coast is in limbo. Developer Samui Property Solutions Co Ltd is offering the land for sale. Police will soon investigate and could bring charges of submitting false information to obtain ownership. Following a visit by the natural-resources minister yesterday the man leading the controversial investigation is now himself subject to a probe. Minister Yongyuth Tiyapairat authorised a panel to investigate Surat Thani deputy governor Theerayuth Aiemtrakul on charges of allowing the suspected land encroachment and for illegally issuing land documents. Theerayuth's own ongoing investigation found only 200 rai of the disputed land had been legally obtained, according to a source close to the investigation. The rest was still being investigated. The land sale is said to be worth nearly Bt4 billion.

Officials believed more than half the land in question was uninhabited forest. The investigation began in March following complaints of encroachment by villagers and officials. "What makes it controversial is that the company announced it was selling all the land before official determination of ownership," the source said.

Koh Samui Land Office chief Charoen Chantapan said Samui Property Solutions had presented various title deeds for more than 400 rai of land.

Ruangnam Jaikwang, president of the Surat Thani Tourism Association, said he agreed with efforts to check all Samui land deals as this would prevent long-term problems.

Meanwhile, border-patrol police and villagers inspected 60 rai of forest in Phanom district that had allegedly been encroached on by a rubber and oil-palm plantation. Also discovered were 200 hardwood planks ready for transport. Traces of tree-felling and land-clearing were found. Kamnan Paithoon Khongderm said that villagers guarded the area during the day but people sneaked in during the night to cut down trees. A 24-hour patrol has been started.

The minister's trip also saw the transfer of Samut Sakhon land official Suwat Wichaidit for alleged involvement in land encroachment at Tambon Bo Phut.