'Land grabber' faces Amlo scrutiny

'Land grabber' faces Amlo scrutiny

Probe widens in Sung Noen forest land case

The 2nd Army will ask the Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) to examine the assets and financial transactions of a hotelier accused of encroaching upon almost 4,000 rai of forest reserve land in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Sung Noen district.

It is alleged that local businessman Ammarin Yousukdee took illegal control and worked this land, all 3,900 rai of which is national forest preserve. (Photo by Tawatchai Khemgumnerd)

Col Sommai Busaba, a member of the 2nd Army’s legal team, said Thursday he had submitted the case details to deputy 2nd Army chief Thawat Sukplang for consideration before forwarding the matter to Amlo.

Amlo will be asked to examine the assets and financial transactions of Ammarin Yusukdee — a well-known hotelier in Nakhon Ratchasima. He is accused of encroaching upon about 3,900 rai of Sung Noen national forest reserve land.

If found guilty, he will face prosecution for violation of Section 3 of the anti-money laundering law which deals with the illegal possession and exploitation of natural resources for commercial gain, Col Sommai said.

Sung Noen district police chief Phairote Khunmuen said Thursday  the Nong Ta Kai tambon administrative organisation has filed a fresh police complaint accusing Mr Ammarin and another suspect, Somphote Srimai, of encroaching further into the forest reserve.

Pol Col Phairote said the pair surrendered to hear the fresh charges Thursday and denied them.

The local administration had previously filed a land encroachment suit against the pair and the case is now with the provincial court, which will deliver a ruling on Monday, Pol Col Phairote said.

The military last Monday seized the 3,900 rai of land following a complaint by villagers to the National Council for Peace and Order.

The villagers in Ban Nong Kung and Ban Nong Kaeo in tambon Nong Ta Kai claimed they were barred by Mr Ammarin from entering what was widely known as forest reserve land.

The 2nd Army investigated and discovered using aerial maps provided by the Land Department that the land occupied by Mr Ammarin was in the reserve.

Sung Noen forest reserve land which covers the two villages was registered as public land for common use by the villagers in 1953.

Before Mr Ammarin claimed ownership of the land, about eight families worked in the area as legal loggers supplying wood to the State Railway of Thailand for use as fuel, according to Col Sommai, who headed Monday’s raid.

During the raid, Mr Ammarin, who also owns the Ammarin Resort Hotel in Pak Thong Chai district of Nakhon Ratchasima, appeared and presented several documents to support his ownership claim.

He told officials he had utilised the land since 1992. At present, he grows sugar cane which he supplies to a sugar mill in Khon Buri district.

Mr Ammarin has reaped more than 100 million baht in benefits by exploiting the land as a sugar cane plantation and collecting rent from villagers over the past several years, said Col Sommai.

Officials who examined title deeds produced by Mr Ammarin found there were some irregularities with the documents, he said.

The military has seized more than 3,900 rai of forest reserve land in Nakhon Ratchasima's Sung Noen district from an influential figure who was found to have long occupied the land using illegally obtained title deeds. One suspect was also detained. 

Sung Noen is a small district just west of Korat city, but military officials say it is the home of a gigantic land scandal.

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