Investigation Launched Against Politician Over Khao Yai Land

Thai police have launched an investigation against a politician’s family living in Prachin Buri province, fearing they have encroached on some 10,000 rai in the world heritage-registered Khao Yai National Park.

Early this week, the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) concluded that it had sufficient grounds to take legal action against Deputy Education Minister Kanokwan Vilawan and her father Soonthorn, who serves as Prachin Buri Provincial Administrative Organization’s head, for illegally occupying 150 rai in Khao Yai.

Another eight individuals could face legal proceedings for the land invasion.

Col Pongphet Ketsupa, the commander of Internal Security Operations Command (Isco)’s operation team, clarified that further investigation is needed to gather more details.

However, his team has joined efforts with the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) to examine the areas that have been illegally occupied, especially in Prachin Buri, after receiving encroachment reports.

According to Col Pongphet, an initial NACC-supported investigation showed that a 10,000-rai land piece in Khao Yai had been encroached upon, but its owners have not yet been confirmed.

“We believe the politician’s family in Prachin Buri illegally occupied more land inside the forest. Our team is working hard to clear this up,” he added.

Col Pongphet said that his team had discovered that Ms. Kanokwan’s family had started illegally encroaching on the national park in 2017. The DNP filed a complaint against those involved, but the case did not proceed.

Later, in 2020, the investigation team found that the family appeared to have illegally encroached on another 24 rai in the national park. The case was then sent to the Attorney General’s Office.

Ms. Kanokwan and Mr. Soonthorn claimed that they had bought the land from its previous owners, but the NAAC’s investigation revealed that the plots had not previously been used.

The NACC accused the family of colluding with government officials to obtain illegal title deeds.

The Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) indicted ten suspects on land invasion, saying it would refer the case to the Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct’s Region 2 Office.

The defendants included Jeerasak Pholsuk, director of Land Deed Surveying Center in Saraburi, Nakhon Nayok, Prachinburi, and Sa Kaeo provinces, survey director Somsak Kantarom, surveying supervisor Somsak Heeb-ngern, land title investigator Phanphen Phakhayat, survey leader Noi Tumphan, and land survey director Prathan Banchuen.

Other suspects were Tawee Muensri, a former village headman in Tambon Noen Hom, and Kanit Petchpradab, a former surveyor under the Royal Forest Department.