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Missing suspect in Khao Yai park land encroachment controversy surrenders

The mayor of the Prachin Buri Provincial Administrative Organization (PAO), Sunthorn Vilawan, who is wanted by public prosecutors for alleged land encroachment in Khao Yai National Park, surrendered to police in Thailand’s eastern province of Rayong this morning (Tuesday).

Prayut Petchkun, deputy spokesman for the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG), said that the suspect, who is the father of Deputy Education Minister Kanokwan Vilawan, was being escorted to the OAG’s 2nd regional corruption suppression office and will then be taken to the Second Region Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases to face charges of allegedly abetting officials in abusing their authority in connection with the land encroachment case.

Prayut said that charge sheet against Sunthorn had already been prepared and he will be indicted immediately, adding that the case has not expired yet, as feared, because the arrest warrant was issued before expiry of the statute of limitations, in accordance with a provision in the amended Anti-Corruption Act.

Deputy Education Minister Kanokwan and four other land and forest officials have already been indicted in the Rayong-based Second Region Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases, which has jurisdiction over several eastern provinces, including Prachin Buri, where the alleged land encroachment took place.

Kanokwan and nine other people, including Sunthorn, have been found to be at fault by the National Anti-Corruption Commission for land encroachment in Khao Yai national park.

Both Kanokwan and Sunthorn claimed, however, that they bought the land in 2002, when it was already developed, but aerial mapping, conducted a year later, revealed that the land was still covered with thick forest.

The alleged encroachment came to light two years ago after three backhoes were found clearing the land, leading to an investigation by national park officials and, eventually, by the NACC.

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