The BBC’s Jonathan Head, who is being sued for what a lot more foreign correspondents in Thailand should have been doing for years, is finding out just what it means to get involved in Thailand’s controversial legal system.
Jonathan, who took up the cases of Briton’s Ian Rance and Irishman Colin Vard, the latter which was first investigated on this site, is being sued by a lawyer in Phuket who forged his client’s signature on a house ownership document.
In that case the lawyer was Pratuan Thanarak, who forged a signature as a result of which Briton Ian Rance lost millions – not least his home.
I think we can forget about using terms such as ‘alleged’ here, normally used when a case has not gone through the process of law. Because when it touches such issues as Thai loss of face judges in Thailand tend to throw away the books.
Lawyer Pratuan Thanarak is suing Jonathan for criminal libel under the Computer Crime Act the penalty for which can be seven years in jail. That won’t happen. The strategy by the plaintiffs in these actions is to continue to wear down the defendants until they apologise and cough up to prevent prohibitive losses.
Already this case has been delayed causing lawyers to make a wasted journey to Phuket. Now judges must decide whether to formally accept the case or not. Failure to do so would cause more loss of face to the Phuket lawyer in a Phuket court.
Now let me see this case was first in the court in February. It is next due in court next month. That’s ten months gone and it has not yet reached the trial process.
If the case is accepted Jonathan must pay bail and may also have to seek the permission of the court every time he is sent out of the country. If the court does not give him special dispensation to carry out his work, his usefulness as the BBCs south east Asia correspondent will be rather limited.
So far, the BBC is keeping shtum. “The BBC stands by the high standards of its journalism. As this is now a legal matter, there will be no further comment.”
And the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand, of which he is now the immediate past President, will probably also keep its head down as they have done is other cases, restricting themselves to statements of concern.
Meanwhile next month Colin Vard, who had seven properties stolen from under him in an identical conspiracy of lawyers and local officials in Phuket, faces three cases of criminal libel under the computer crime act. His signature was forged not once but 12 times. His lawyer worked for the law firm C.K. Chonlasit.
Mind you his daughter the feisty Jessie Vard, now 17, is something of a star in Thailand with some 650,000 plus fans on her Facebook site ‘Justice for Jessie’. She speaks and writes fluent Thai and went for a Ministry of Justice official when she heard him call her father a ‘lying, cheating, farang’ at a time when the Thai authorities were smiling and pretending to support his case.
Can the BBC get to grips with this? Will Victoria Derbyshire on whose BBC programme the item aired do a follow-up? Or will Jonathan merely get reply ‘You’re in a corrupt country what else do you expect’ which I so often heard as I publicly took down one crook or another as the Thai police were part of the problem.
A knock-on effect of the Jessie Vard webpage is that a lot of properties in Phuket are not selling and people are now blaming the Vard and Rance cases for the drop in interest in this ‘paradise island’ but which the Captain of one of the first British sailing vessels called there described as an island of ‘dacoits’.