"We have some regulations and processes to investigate illegality, but not that many. We must respect individual rights and assume individuals will not give fake statements to officials" - Anuwat Maytheewibulwut Director-general, lands department
The Lands Department does not have a policy to scrutinise acquisitions in which illegal use of Thai nominees on behalf of foreigners is suspected, says director-general Anuwat Maytheewibulwut.
Land ownership revocation cases mostly occur when a complaint or conflict is brought to the department's attention, he said.
"Each year there are 5.5 million land-related transactions handled by the department and we receive around 1,000 complaints," he said. "We have no time to check every transaction, but we will investigate when there's a complaint."
Mr Anuwat was responding after several sharp letters in the Bangkok Post over the past two weeks from readers who questioned the department's policy on land acquisition by foreigners. Some alleged it was xenophobic.
He said it was likely a misunderstanding that the department would scrutinise every transaction suspected to have a Thai nominee owning land for foreigners. In fact, an investigation will be initiated only if there is a complaint.
"There is nothing new in the Land Code for land acquisition by foreigners," he added.
"For purchases or transfers, we have some regulations and processes to investigate illegality, but not that many. We must respect individual rights and assume individuals will not give fake statements to officials."
According to the Land Code, a foreigner can legally acquire land by inheritance as a legal heir, and his or her land ownership must be approved by the Interior Ministry.
Alternatively, a foreigner must invest at least 40 million baht and maintain it for five years through investment in Thai government bonds, property mutual funds, or in share capital of a Board of Investment-promoted company.
Under these two criteria, a foreigner can purchase up to one rai of land for residential use. The department also allows foreign ownership up to 49% of saleable space in a condominium, said Mr Anuwat.
If a foreigner has a Thai spouse, either legitimate or common-law, and wants to buy land, the Thai spouse must give officials of the Lands Department a joint written confirmation that the money for the purchase is wholly separate property or the personal property of the Thai spouse, not jointly acquired property.
"If a foreigner has a conflict with his or her Thai spouse and makes a complaint on land ownership to the department, we will investigate," said Mr Anuwat. "If we find the ownership is illegal, we will ask them to transfer or sell that piece of land within 180 to 365 days."
If the transfer or sale cannot be made within a year, the department will use its authority to do it. Any legal dispute between the couple not involving land ownership must be resolved under civil law.
"Changing foreign land acquisition regulations such as an extension of the leasehold period to longer than 30 years or increasing foreigners' quotas to buy condominiums is a government matter. The department is always ready to carry out the government's policy," Mr Anuwat said.
He added that all foreigners who comply with the law will get full protection under the law.
"For anyone involved in land ownership on behalf of foreigners, what they should be sure of is concern for the nation, ethics and morality in applying the law to make sure they are good Thai citizens," he said.