Investors use Hmong to front resorts

Investors use Hmong to front resorts

Hill tribe warned to revoke contracts

A Hmong farmer tends to a cabbage crop with a Phu Thap Boek resort in the background. (Photo by Chumporn Sangvilert)
A Hmong farmer tends to a cabbage crop with a Phu Thap Boek resort in the background. (Photo by Chumporn Sangvilert)

Several investors in resorts on Phu Thap Boek, the mountain tourist attraction in Phetchabun, have unlawfully nominated members of the ethnic Hmong hill tribe to front their resorts to prevent prosecution, authorities said.

Cheewaphap Cheewatham, head of the Payak Prai forest ranger division of the Royal Forest Department, said the department is working with various government agencies to verify who the real owners are of the resorts and properties located on the mountain peak.

The resorts and properties that are found to be genuinely owned by the Hmong hill tribe people will be allowed to continue but those who are found not entitled to legally occupy the land will face legal action and eviction.

"Beside taking legal action, we will also propose the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) seize their assets on the ground they are 'influential criminal figures' and destroy natural resources," he said.

In 1966, the government gave the Welfare Department permission to use about 47,000 rai of land on Phu Thap Boek as resettlement areas for the ethnic group, resettled from various provinces around the country.

Mr Cheewaphap, who is working with officers from the Interior Ministry, Social Development and Human Security Ministry and the Internal Security Operations Command, said a key problem is several investors have used Hmong hill tribe people as their nominees to operate the resorts and sidestep legal barriers.

In one case that has faced legal action, authorities inspected a resort where ownership was claimed by a tribesman. Upon investigation, it emerged the resort was in fact owned by an investor from another province.

"I would like to warn the hill tribe people they may face legal action and lose their rights of land occupation if they are found acting as nominees for investors," said Mr Cheewaphap.

"The hill tribe people who have allowed investors to rent their land plots to run resorts should revoke the contracts to protect themselves from being prosecuted for cooperating with investors in wrongdoings," he said.

Mr Cheewaphap said there are 95 resorts on Phu Thap Boek and 65 of them are believed to belong to investors from other areas.

With the help of Mr Cheewaphap, forestry authorities joined border police and on Sunday raided four resorts on Phu Thap Boek suspected of illegal land occupation.

One operator in the raid was found to have expanded their resort despite still facing prosecution from a previous raid.

Another three resorts were constructed on the area which authorities have used to plant 400 Nang Phaya Sua Krong trees, or Wild Himalayan Cherry, aimed at developing the area into a "Phu Thap Boek Viewpoint" landmark. Only 40 trees remain now, said Mr Mr Cheewaphap.

According to sources, 47 resorts on Phu Thap Boek are currently facing or will face legal action. Phu Thap Boek is the highest peak in Phetchabun province. It is also home to the largest cabbage plantation in the country.

After the peak became popular among tourists, welfare-allotted land began to change hands as more resorts were built.

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