WEDNESDAY, April 17, 2024

Agriculture Ministry targets land reform officials, tycoon over Khao Yai land allocation

Agriculture Ministry targets land reform officials, tycoon over Khao Yai land allocation

Two land reform officials are expected to soon face arrest warrants for allegedly breaking the law related to the controversial allocation of land near Khao Yai Park.

Thanadol Suwannarit, adviser to Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Thamanat Prompow, said on Monday that he had inspected the disputed forestland near the Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima and found that two officials had violated regulations.

He was referring to officials from the Nakhon Ratchasima branch of the Agricultural Land Reform Office (ALRO). Thanadol checked the disputed areas after the National Parks Office under the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) alleged that the Nakhon Ratchasima land reform office had marked 2,900 rai (464 hectares) of fertile forests of the Khao Yai Park as areas designated for allocation to landless farmers.

While ALRO insisted the 2,900 rai were part of the area marked for it to allocate, it also conceded that its officials in Nakhon Ratchasima should not have allocated them as they were fertile forests, and not suitable for farming.

Thanadol said that based on his own checks, seven officials stand to face investigation. He said he also found that of the five recipients of the controversial plots, one was a rich tycoon, who was not qualified to receive land under the land reform scheme.

He said officials were gathering information to take legal action against the tycoon, who has not been named. He added that the investigation, so far, has not found any politicians involved in the controversial handout of land.

Thanadol added that the Agriculture Ministry would isolate all tycoons who have received farmland under the land reform scheme despite being ineligible, and take legal action against them.

Thanadol was speaking to reporters after he and ALRO secretary-general Vinaroj Sapsongsuk met Theppasu Bavornchotidara, secretary-general of the Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO).

Thanadol said he and Vinaroj wanted to consult Theppasu about legal actions that can be taken against land recipients under land reform, such as selling soil or using the land for purposes other than farming.

Thanadol said they also consulted the AMLO secretary-general about legal actions that can be taken against the Nakhon Ratchasima land reform officials, who allegedly practised malfeasance.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Vinaroj said the land reform officials would also be investigated for abusing their authority and violating the law on natural resources.

He added that AMLO will also set up a special committee with representatives from the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission, the Office of the Attorney-General, the Royal Thai Police and ALRO to investigate Sor Por Kor land allocations nationwide to detect any unqualified recipients.

Vinaroj said both unqualified recipients and officials who distributed the land would face charges.

AMLO spokesman Witthaya Nititham, meanwhile, said the agency will cooperate fully in the land reform probe nationwide.