CASUALTIES OF WAR AS THAI ISLAND IDYLL BECOMES EXPAT LIVING HELL.
Expats report: ‘A serious and imminent danger to lives’ .
This is Norbert Verweyen, the boss of OK Properties on Koh Samui. Actually he is an opthalmic optician by profession but in Thailand he is best known as one of the major land developers on the holiday island .
Complaints have been made that authorities have turned a blind eye to some of his activities.
He insists he is the victim of rumours, innuendo and downright lies.
Whatever the truth his name has been linked to death and destruction.
Here the OK Properties boss is holding up presents at his 62nd birthday party he held last week outside the posh Santi Thani estate on the island.
His wife Phanomporn would be around to celebrate it with him but she was gunned down on the holiday island five years ago. He has no insight into that murder however.
Nobody was arrested although the island’s newspaper the Samui Express reported in a matter of fact sort of way, quoting a ‘Police Lt. Colonel Kaewlanet, that the person who helped ‘find the gun’ was a Region 8 policeman. By gun he meant ‘killer’.
The policeman also volunteered the statement that the gunman probably resided in Chumporn Province. Nobody seemed to have gone looking.
The investigation seems to have stopped there.
Over the same period Verweyen’s former British head of sales Gary Pearmain was gunned down in his home on Koh Samui. He was shot twice in the chest but survived.
According to the Press Association Police Lt. Colonel Somphon Krutsuwan was reported as saying:
“The victim had a conflict with fellow foreigners over land brokerage deals on Koh Samui.”
But when it came to an arrest – once again police seem to have either been blinkered or suffering from perhaps blurred or tunnel vision…
|Santi Thani nestled in the foothills on Koh Samui|
I am not going to speculate about these two incidents. Nor would I dream of speculating about why Norbert would wish to dump his BMW 7 series in Pattaya and then take a hike after evading a police checkpoint, as reported in Pattaya City News below, save to say that all these stories seem to put people on their guard when they are around him.
But I can say that after the Pattaya incident Norbert was spoken to by Thai police, an agreement was reached and he returned to to Koh Samui where he has lived happily ever since…that is if he is happy in the Thai courts.
A lot of that time has been spent the local Koh Samui court pursuing home owners – some 84 cases to date – and judges never seem to get bored.
Here’s a picture of Mr. Verweyen with none other than former Democratic Party Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, whose name has been linked to land scandals on Phuket, and who was forced to resign as an M.P.
Some foreigners in business in Thailand like to have themselves associated with people in power and it never does any harm to send a message to the masses, so I am guessing that Norbert likes this picture – He did after all get it framed. But could there be a pattern here?
The problem with Norbert appears to be that while the Tourist Authority of Thailand is spending millions on promoting the island, which has evolved from a quiet and picturesque backpacker destination to a marketable product of plush developments and horizon pools, his activities seem to be negating some of that TAT investment. This is when Thailand truly amazes.
This is the beginning of a report (above) from expatriates on Koh Samui which has been in the Chanceries of several Bangkok Embassies for over five years. Could foreign residents really be in fear for their lives?
That came from residents of one of the island’s plush developments built by Verweyen and the Lord Mayor according to the promo above.
It seems to have been taken seriously because the British Ambassador subsequently wrote a letter on behalf of British citizens and citizens of the following countries, Germany, France, Britain, Canada, USA, Switzerland, Sweden and Australia.
Without prejudging the situation they asked the MFA to pass the matter on to the relevant authority to see if anything could be done.
The Embassy was:
‘concerned that no action has been taken in response to official complaints filed with the local authorities concerning the alleged activities of Mr. Norbert Verweyen.’
Anyway the residents sat back and waited……. and waited…..and waited. Now they have asked the current Ambassador Mark Kent (right) to take a look at the case again..as the situation appears to have deteriorated even further.
(Although Koh Samui has not received diplomatic accredition to the Court of St.James the Embassy the Embassy must regard Koh Samui is part of Thailand , despite one view that it does not consider itself as part of any real world except at hand-out time and of course for TAT commercials.)
While Mark Kent is no Clark Kent, whose super visionery powers seem to be needed on Samui, relations with the British Embassy seem to have improved.
Said one house owner:
“When we first brought the issue to the British Embassy they said they could do nothing. A member of the consular staff was quoted as saying: ‘Have you not considered, er,…running?”
What issue? Well that seems to encompass everything from death threats, serious assaults. And, if some house owners are to be believed entering into a deal with this former optician is a bit like playing ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’ with the victims not able to see what’s going to hit them next.
Just take a look at these lists of court actions involving residents of the Santi-Thani estate.
But waits there’s more:
He’s not winning in these cases. But no pain no gain. And there’s more
Yes. I’m sorry there’s still more: Please take it from me that these withdrawn cases number up to 584.
Ah. There seems to be something happening here, or is there? Well he is suing a house owner for defamation when he complained to the German Embassy.
Then his aide de camp is targeting the elderly members of the committee set up to look after the interests of Santi Thani for not having work permits. The members are between the ages of 65 and 79.
Then the wife of Norbert’s aide Pongthep Meepian is suing two members of the ”committee’for assault.
|Not it does not – say owners|
And finally his employees – those who were found not guilty of an assault on a home owner and committee member Bernard Junet, 71, – are countersuing the original complainants claiming they made false statements to police! This comes five years after the actual assault.
This is too good. I am sitting here thinking – Ýou really just can’t make this up.
The local court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to find Norbert guilty of the assault and did not even rule on a case of trespass, so we have to conclude, he sleep walked into the situation.
The guilty party said he was acting under orders but not Mr. Verweyen’s orders.
This, claim residents, is standard procedurre for Norber’s employees.
|Bernard Junet – eye injury|
Retired Swiss lawyer Bernard Junet who had just been nominated to the new committee said:.
“I was punched to the ground and when I got up I was punched again. ”
Other people, two Brits, and 3 Germans, were also reported to have been attacked at the same time and it’s claimed (unsubstantiated of course) that Norbert stubbed out his cigar out on a house owner’s hand.
“We did not imagine what happened,”.
Bernard Junet’s second house also seems to have self-combusted on the estate.
Here it is (below right) glowing away under paradise island skies.
It was of course fully insured. But the insurance company, said Junet, refused to pay up because it was the work of arson. Local police closed the case saying it must have been an electrical fault.
(There is no suggestion that Verweyen was involved but now you might be thinking that it might not be a good idea to buy a house in Santi Thani or even on Koh Samui for that matter near anybody with a book of matches, if the police will not investigate arson.)
But hang on, at Santi Thani the security is great.
‘The Sterlin Wall’
Look. It’s the STerlin Wall! (ST = Santi Thani) This wall below will stop any ne’er-do-well driving on to your premises in a pick-up and loading it up with your belongings.
And here at the front at this barrier Verweyen’s own Grepo (Grenzpolizei/Border Police) ensured privacy for residents in their own little island tropical paradise.
Replete with barbed wire and a no-man’s land of builder’s yard junk and rotting vegetation this is not the sort of picture you see in those glossy brochures.
Unfortunately these barriers were not meant for the safety of residents. They were there to contain them! They could not get in and out of their estate at all, which became a Stalag until residents got a court order.
Here’s his late wife Phanomporn, known as Ananya (right) outside at night receiving the order from a court official with a smile, not the one promoted by the TAT I fear.
So what are are the residents officials complaints?
Well listed below are the court actions against Verweyen.
There are not so many and they are getting results. The problem is, they say, that nobody is actually enforcing the court orders.
Then there’s those people accused of assault and trespass at night but only defendant No.2 is found guilty. A Thai national, he is appealing a one year sentence – suspended.
|Norbert and disconnection crew|
And we can also read that Norbert has also settled out of court for defaming Bernard Junet, and settled out of court on an allegation of corporate fraud. He he settled out of court to pay back 2 million baht to someone, but he has appealed another judgment against him for 5 million baht.
Norbert of course escapes all custodial sentences and on the pending forgery charge he gets away with 100,000 baht bail and gets to keep his passport while the house owners he is fighting have their passports taken and are made to pay bail amounts of up to 650,000 Thai baht a staggering US$21,000!
I mean that’s those old aged pensioners accused of working without work permits!
Seems there is a pattern emerging here. No wonder the Embassies are concerned. The British Embassy has asked the court why British passports have been seized. They have not received an answer.
Mr. Verweyen insists however that he was in the right and its the owners who need their eyes checked.
“My staff do not need to break or damage electricity meters because they belong to our own company.
“There is a judgment that 26 of 200 owners have the right to manage their own administration. I can show you a court ruling that two owners have to pay more then 1 million baht in damages to me.
“The case of the security guards was dismissed,” he said. Now the security guards were taking their own action
“One of the leading English persons is now also accused by the prosecutor of Thailand to have lied under oath and had to pay bail and had to hand over the English passport to the court”.
A spokesman for Coconut Hill which represents the owners said:
“We represent 150 of the 178 plots in the development. The remainder belong to Norbert and a group of 9 German nationals
“The public prosecutor was not taking a case against a lying English person. That was private action which had yet to be formally accepted by the court.”
Leaving aside a second the minutiae of the the claims and counter claims there seems little doubt that there is a climate of fear in this holiday island paradise.
This week a contractor described how at the end of last month Norbert tried to stop workers from repairing a roof for a British couple who were away.
“He’s bossing people around but the estate is not even his.”
Now Norbert is now happily ensconsed with his new wife Jiraporn Ngernklom , another defendant.
|Norbert with Jiraporn|
He sidelined Coconut Land & House, Coconut Village and Grove Co.Ltd., and the Santi Thani Property Company Ltd, in favour of trading under the name OK Properties.
This company is not registered with the Department of Business Development, claim owners and lawyers for Coconut Hills, which represents the residents, and they cannot find it registered anywhere, and nor can I, so if if you are buying a property from OK it might be an idea first to engage some caution until this is clarified.
And then take heed of the Thai expression. The sugar has already entered the elephant’s mouth.
Finally also do not confuse Norbert’s Coconut companies with Briton Alan Sadd’s Coco Resort which crashed years ago as he pocketed clients cash before fleeing to Taiwan.
Although they were partners and they married into the same Thai family.'(Their wives were sisters) Sadd split to go it alone.
This is what Business Traveller had to say about Mr. Sadd before the balloon went up.
“Alan Sadd loves the blues. So when the 58-year-old British director of CoCo International Properties Co Ltd (“Real Estate in Paradise”) was looking for a way to put his island home on the map last year, he hit on the idea of a music festival.
A contact in the industry put him in touch with some world-class names, and for 10 days late last year, Koh Samui rocked to the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Jools Holland, Ike Turner, Zakiya Hooker, UB40, The Wailers and Big Brother and the Holding Company.
Held by the lake just behind Chaweng Beach, the festival was a triumph of rumbustious son et lumière and a miracle of smooth organisation.
Talk about great balls of fire. In the space of just over a week, Samui made the quantum leap from Thai holiday spot to international destination, and it was a move largely fuelled by the massive property developments that are transforming the island’s 247 square kilometres
The road that roughly circles Koh Samui is scattered left and right with hoardings beseeching passers-by to buy in, and it’s seldom that the copy lines eschew mentioning “paradise”. Welcome to construction paradise.”
When buying a paradise island home in Thailand make sure that you and your fellow owners also own the common land and the utilities. You might find yourself tied to exhorbitant charges and landlords who will cut your services at the drop of a hat. Worse, developers have also been known to sell off or re-mortgage the common land for cash. See what it costs to get it back.
Be very careful about buying off-plan in Thailand. That may mean the developer does not have the cash to build the development in the first place. The country is littered with incomplete projects which have been promoted in glossy magazines in Europe, Australasia and the United States.
Its always best to buy in area where local Thais are always buying. But not even the richest Thais will stump up the money wanted by some developers on Koh Samui and Phuket.
Be very careful about using a local lawyer, and never one recommended by the seller. Using a reputable law firm from Bangkok may be more expensive, but cheaper in the long run. Ask around thoroughly before employing any lawyer. Do not put any hefty deposit down until you are absolutely confident.
If you do have a dispute with a local developer be warned this can take years to go through the courts.
If you believe the foreign developer is guilty of criminal charges do not expect the police to take up the case. They will regard this as a foreigner-foreigner problem and you will have to pay.
And finally while there are ways around ownership that appear to be tolerated, the law is that foreigners cannot as a rule own freehold land in Thailand. If you upset someone, your ownership, whether it be through a company with nominees or maybe a Thai wife, or by lease, might come under some unwarranted scrutiny.
|I wonder who lost his cash on this place|