BBC South East Asia Correspondent gated by Thai court

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Judges in Phuket, dubbed this week as the most corrupt place in Thailand by the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand, have ruled that BBC South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head, cannot travel around the region on news assignments without first seeking the courts permission – and paying more cash.


In a case brought by a lawyer on the island judges said they did not believe it was a great inconvenience to Jonathan. They withdrew Jonathan’s passport.

The case has taken over a year to be accepted. 

Already the Phuket Court had spent years deliberating in a case brought against Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathien of Phuketwan by naval officer on behalf of the Thai Navy. In that case the court finally ruled that the case was an abuse of the Computer Crime Act (Libel) and not what the act was intended for.

Their story using Reuters copy suggested that the Thai Navy were involved atrocities against the Rohingya. This was after the navy itself released footage of the navy pushing Rohingyas out to sea.

But the judges could have decided that BEFORE accepting the case – as they could have in the case of the Jonathan Head-Ian Rance spat with the humiliated lawyer, who admitted on camera that he witnessed a forged signature. 

This allowed Rance to be removed as Director thus preventing him suing as Director to protect the land and start proceedings in the courts on behalf of his company to recover assets that had been stolen by the fraudster and sold on to money lenders who later mortgaged to a Thai Bank to launder the money. 

Jonathan with the Thai lawyer who lost face when caught up in a fraud

But under Thai law the defence is not entitled to call witnesses before a case is accepted. 

Jonathan Head wrote on his Facebook: 

“Spent the whole day in court in Phuket processing bail for myself and Ian Rance for our upcoming trial on criminal defamation and computer crimes act charges. We have been charged for reporting on the BBC wrongdoing by a lawyer which he freely admits – notarising a fake signature which led to Ian being fraudulently stripped of control of his company. The court also confiscated my passport and banned me from leaving Thailand. Two petitions by our lawyers arguing that my job requires me to travel at short notice were rejected by the judge, who stated that having to request permission a week in advance and fly down to Phuket every time to retrieve my passport – if they grant the travel request – was no great inconvenience. So I guess for the duration of the trial – possibly two years – I will downgrade myself from SE Asia Correspondent to Thailand correspondent.”

Irishman Colin Vard, who was robbed of seven properties in Phuket after his lawyer also forged signatures wrote that the foreign media failed to fully detail what was really going on Phuket such as the intimidation and threats to life, limb and anybody who dares to assist the foreign victims. 

“The truth of what is really happening is being obscured. It is sad that foreign journalists and the media organisations they work for ignore the basic principles of journalism and bow down to this intimidation and edit the truth. It is like sportsmen refusing to compete when they feel that they are likely to lose. There are no rewards for cowardice.”

COMMENT:

Jonathan’s report on the victims of massive frauds in Phuket on Vard and Rance, was a departure from the norm. While I first reported on the Vard case many years ago, I understand the BBC took some convincing to give it air time.  In fact, it was finally broadcast on the BBC2 mid-morning programme Victoria Derbyshire. 

Ian Rance and his children. A Thai ordeal

Indicative of how justice progresses in Thailand is the fact that Colin’s daughter Jessie in the photo above taken when I wrote the first story is now continuing the campaign for justice while earning cash as a model! (below) And the case has not moved one inch despite promises from the Chief of Police in Bangkok.

There has been long term resistance from UK editors to publish stories about British victims of corruption along the lines ‘Well they went to live in Thailand, what did they expect?’

That is also reflected in the attitude of foreign embassies to foreign victims of crime.

Having broadcast the segment, it would be cowardice if the BBC backed down, something for which it is not entirely unknown, something I witnessed when I was a researcher on the Panorama programme ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’ and more recently when the Beeb shelved a Panorama programme on the Harlequin Property Group, which was active in the Caribbean and Pattaya and consumed some £600 million of UK citizens’ retirement cash.

One plus is that because Jonathan has a higher profile the case will focus the world on how primitive the Thai legal system which is as they say in Scotland ‘All fur coat and nae knickers’.

While Thailand is a delightful place to live if you keep your head down, especially on a western salary (and that has been the reason why most correspondents, myself included, stay so long) there is something terribly repetitive about ‘foreign’ news in this country.

Put it this way the most of the major stories I covered in 30 years involved, human trafficking, labour abuse, abuse of ‘immigrants’, foreign mainly British crooks, the shooting of demonstrators, police and army corruption, the corrupt army allegedly saving the country from corruption, crooked judges, unusually rich politicians, and gobsmackingly unbelievable murders by monks and policeman, and zzzzzz – underwater weddings.

Well actually I did not do underwater weddings, but you can see the pattern.

Best of luck to Jonathan. If he wins and I were the fat controller I would send him to Washington.  No, I think I’d send him now. Why should the BBC defer to the Thai justice system? It’s beyond a joke.

Alternatively he could stroll across the border and find out why Brit boiler room boys are shooting each other.

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