Team probes forest land in Ratchaburi

Team probes forest land in Ratchaburi

Ex-official alleged to have encroached

Veera Somkwamkid, secretary-general of the People's Network Against Corruption, in Ratchaburi province on Thursday. (Photo: Saichon Srinuanchan)
Veera Somkwamkid, secretary-general of the People's Network Against Corruption, in Ratchaburi province on Thursday. (Photo: Saichon Srinuanchan)

Officials from the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Division (NRECD) on Thursday inspected close to 400 rai of forest land in Ratchaburi province which has allegedly been encroached on by Thawee Kraikupt, a former deputy transport minister and father of Palang Pracharath MP Pareena Kraikupt.

The inspection was part of a criminal investigation being carried out into alleged encroachment of the land, comprising five combined plots in Suan Phung district.

The probe followed a series of investigations which began earlier in response to complaints lodged with various agencies by Veera Somkwamkid, secretary-general of the People's Network Against Corruption.

Mr Veera lodged his first complaint on Jan 28 when he informed local police about Mr Thawee encroaching on plots which are connected with the Khao Son Wildlife Breeding Centre, which borders Suan Phung district and Chom Bung district.

The activist later filed similar complaints with the Royal Forest Department and the Agricultural Land Reform Office and asked them to launch a separate probe into this alleged land encroachment case.

In response to Mr Veera's petition, the department and local administrative officials launched an investigation into the alleged encroachment.

Unfortunately, the investigation had stalled due to the spread of Covid-19 over the past several months. However, the NRECD recently opened a new probe into the land encroachment case.

The NRECD then invited Mr Veera, Mr Thawee and Ms Pareena to take part in the division's inspection of the land on Thursday.

However, only Mr Veera turned up and led the authorities to inspect the plots.

According to the information supplied by Mr Veera, the first plot of about 17 rai is part of a forest reserve, while the remaining plots which range in size from one rai to 207 rai are designated as permanent forest zones.

Providing an example, Mr Veera claimed the second plot had been converted into pastureland, a farmhouse and a crocodile farm.

During Thursday's inspection, Mr Veera led an NRECD team along with a group of reporters to tour the plots.

At the crocodile farm, authorities found a large number of crocodiles being raised in different enclosures. Meanwhile, next to the crocodile ponds, officials found animal skulls believed to be those of dogs killed to feed the crocodiles.

A crocodile farming licence issued by the Department of Fisheries was also found at the farm.

The officials said the farm kept 1,050 crocodiles, well within the limit allowed by the farming licence.

For this reason, the authorities could not remove the crocodiles. Moreover, the licence is set to expire on Aug 26.

Some documents containing information about land ownership of both Mr Thawee and Ms Pareena was also found and seized for inspection.

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