A BBC CORRESPONDENT FACES FIVE YEARS FOR EXPOSING PROPERTY FRAUD IN THAILAND. OTHERS WHO ARE RIPPED OFF FACE THE SAME FOR WHISTLE BLOWING
BUT FOR THE BBC AND OTHER LIFESTYLE PROGRAMME MAKERS ITS ‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’ AS ‘HOUSE HUNTERS’ ARE LINED UP BY TELEVISION PROGRAMMES OFFERING THEM DREAM HOMES IN PARADISE. BUT THEY DON’T GET TO HEAR THE BACK STORY, AND THE CLAIMS, SOME ‘PIE IN THE SKY’, JUST DISAPPEAR INTO THE ETHER.
The British media, in particular television producers, are in the business of selling dreams. Some 6,000 Brits a week are leaving their homes for warmer climes, many spurred on images of waves lapping Thailand’s ‘sun kissed’ beaches. Some may live the dream. But many will not.
It’s easy to be enchanted by Thailand’s warm climate, and coconut palm fringed beaches and at the seeming bargain basement prices offered. I would not have stayed for 25 plus years had I not loved the place -- even though as years progressed I would not go to places like Koh Samui or Phuket unless on assignment.
But what I am seeing on television on the UK, while picturesquely accurate, amounts to little more an enticement to self-destruct. Dignitas without the dignity.
|Jonathan Head -- will have to fly to court every month|
For what I am about to write about property fraud now I could end up in jail in Thailand.
As a journalist there I continually exposed property frauds. But as in the case of the BBCs property correspondent Jonathan Head, I was also subject to the country’s draconian Computer Crime Libel laws.
Truth is no defence to libel in Thailand. All it takes is about £500 to lodge a libel case. The justice system can be ‘manipulated’ . There is no presumption of innocence and the accused cannot produce witnesses in a pre-trial. And even if you win you are unlikely to get your money back.
In my case after winning many cases, not only did I not get my cash back, but the courts continued to accept cases from the same people and they only stopped when both fled bail while on appeal in Thailand having been convicted of extortion, and fraud,
Now Jonathan Head has had his passport confiscated, cannot do his work as a correspondent in the region, and will go to trial in August. He cannot leave the country without permission of the court, something of a problem for a correspondent, as I found, who is required to move at a moments notice.*
His crime, exposing a lawyer for notarising a forged signature – something which the lawyer admitted on camera.
But another court in a case brought by the victim acquitted the lawyer find his actions little more than a minor error of judgement.
|Ian Rance and family|
That signature, of ‘house hunter’ Briton Ian Rance, and a notarised forged signature of Irishman Colin Vard, allowed Thais to get hold of the US$4 million in investments the two men had made in property in Phuket.
Who was involved in the fraud? -- everyone from banks, loan sharks, to lawyers and policemen.
These frauds (The Vard fraud was exposed on this site in 2011) were taken to the very top, the Chief Commissioner of the Thai Police, after Mr. Vard held a street demonstration in Bangkok.
Vard’s daughter Jessie was just 12 when I wrote the first story of their predicament. She is now 18, a successful model, and running her own ‘Justice for Jessie’ Facebook page with a massive following of Thais who know what their officials get up to.
Police called in Embassy officials and asked why they were not protecting their citizens. Police promised immediate action and to solve the problem within six months. But that was just for show. Two years on the police have done nothing.
BBC News are sticking by Jonathan Head thankfully.
As an independent journalist, I had to fight my own corner and the generous donations which came flooding in were in the end not enough to sustain the battle. Real threats from foreign criminals who were laundering cash in Thai property, but knew how to do it, meant I had to leave as I was putting my children at risk not having a father around.
So, the first thing that house buyers seeking homes in the paradise of Thailand should know is that if you are swindled, do not whistle-blow, as you could find yourself behind bars and trying to find bail money.
It is of course ironic that, while the BBC is rightly defending their correspondent Jonathan Head, the corporation has been putting out and repeating programmes like ‘Wanted in Paradise’, taking punters to Thailand to find them their dream.
The BBC has joined many other television networks in the UK which, while cashing in on the British rush to live in tropical island paradises, appear to be doing little more than lip service to research into the pitfalls of buying abroad.
A string of programme makers has been sending ‘prospective buyers’ to exotic destinations including Thailand, where of course foreigners cannot legally buy land, and only a condo if more than 50 per cent of the other occupants are Thai.
They cover themselves by telling home hunters to get a good lawyer. And they issue disclaimers and on programme sound bites warning that foreigners cannot buy land, but suggest there is a way around it, if the house-hunters are careful.
Judging by the mass of internet enquiries made on properties promoted in these programmes, British programme makers will have left thousands of viewers who have just been sold their dream on television, wide open to fraud.
Worse, many of the applicant ‘house buyers’ clearly express the intention of selling their UK homes to pay for their new paradise life-style, and are willing to spend their life savings on these tropical gambles.
If things do go wrong they will end up back home as potential candidates for shows such as ‘Benefits Britain’.
What for instance the programme makers do not advise is that ‘so called good lawyers’ in Thailand, as Jonathan Head showed on his package for BB2’s ‘Victoria Derbyshire’, repeatedly play major roles in property scams.
And some of those lawyers are on lists of lawyers provided by Embassies to their foreign nationals in trouble. The British Embassy had two major fraudsters on their lists until I let them know.
The programme makers do not explain that realtors can lie their heads off, well that may be normal in the UK too, but in Thailand there is no recourse. The consumer protection departments are not interested in foreigners.
And even in the most blatant cases Thai police simply will not act on cases of property fraud against foreigners.
Further, while Thailand sounds cheap and cheerful, if things do go wrong prospective buyers stand to lose money they do not have if they attempt to conduct court cases which can go on for years in courts, which will not enforce its judgements.
Either that or they will be defending themselves against allegations of libel!
The subject of mass fraud in the property business for foreigners in Thailand is never touched upon.
The makers of Channel 4s ‘A Place in the Sun’ even have an associated website offering property for sale in Thailand.
While they acknowledge that ‘freehold’ property cannot be bought by foreigners, they have been irresponsibly promoting illegal ’90 year leases’ for property in Thailand – that is 30 year leases which, they claim, have a guarantee repeating to sixty years (included in the price) and a further option for 30 years.
|What automatically extendable leases?|
This is not legal but there are umpteen lawyers out the on the net, linked to property agents, who will say it is. It is even repeated in the British media which churns out features believing that official statements from lawyers must be true.
They do not mention that the first 30 year ‘extendable’ leases signed in Koh Samui over 30 years ago have kicked in and all the foreigner owners been kicked out. Not only that the new Thai owners have taken over the houses and pools they built and you’ll probably soon see these on ‘Trivago’.
Thirty year leases are legal. Expecting to double up or triple up on them is not. They are limited to 30 years for a reason.
Part of the problem is that the programme makers such as Freeform which makes ‘A Place in the Sun’ boast having teams of property agents who have sold houses to ‘pop stars’, but have no experience of the property market in Thailand, no knowledge of Thai lawyers, and no knowledge of Thai law.
In fact, they bring nothing to the table at all except glib descriptions to camera of paradise as they stroll along one beach or another, which may well turn out to be hell on earth for the ‘property hunters’.
They are selling dreams. And anything which might suggest otherwise is glossed over.
Phil Spencer, formerly of ‘Location, Location, Location’, also Channel 4, amazingly hosted his own video promoting products of the Harlequin Property Group run by David Ames, a former bankrupt double glazing salesman from Essex.
Ames is believed to have taken over £300 million from people’s pensions (SIPS)in the UK promising them investments in paradise home in Thailand and the Caribbean, and his failed Thai projects had been exposed many times on this site.
Only this month was he finally charged with fraud and is due to stand trial next year. He has been granted bail.
|Phil Spencer with ‘Ponzi’ developer David Ames|
Spencer, a so-called property guru and a millionaire in his own right, stars in a promo for David Ames filmed at the incomplete ‘Merricks’ resort in Barbados giving his own stamp of approval and ending up with this ‘trust me’ message.
‘I am investing. I am happy with the Harlequin Model. I am investing. Nobody did me a good deed or anything. In my opinion the Harlequin model is worth considering.”
And when he filmed the promo most of the properties were nothing more than a building sites, or models on a board, which is where they remained.
The ‘Harlequin model’ was a massive Ponzi scheme, which has the dashed the hopes of hundreds who lost their SIPS, in projects which were doomed to crash. Ames meanwhile says he has no money left.
And Spencer went on to host his own property show – ‘Phil Spencer – Secret Agent’.
|‘Relax’ at Merrick’s says Phil Spencer -- Secret Agent for who?|
Luckily ‘A Place in the Sun’, which has filmed only two episodes in Thailand (the most popular long haul holiday destination for Britons) has not been successful in selling to the ‘clients’ it flew out. And it has said privately to a complainant that it has no plans for further productions in the country.
The programme format is similar to the BBCs ‘Wanted in Paradise’.
They fly out prospective buyers, invariably couples, sometimes with children, and introduce them to the properties. There are breaks of soul searching ‘Should we make the move?’ and tearful relatives back home are interviewed. They call the programme a success, if they find the buyers a new home in paradise.
Some make the dream. Many don’t. But all will find it is not the same place they went for a holiday.
In the last run of ‘A Place in the Sun’ last July Amanda and Adam Cropper, who run nightclubs in Nottingham, and planned to open businesses in Phuket, could have become croppers themselves, if they had bought any of the properties offered by the programme makers.
|Adam and Amanda Cropper|
Like most couples, they needed to sell their home in the UK to buy in Phuket. They then planned to start a business in Thailand and work to be able to live with a backing of £160,000 cash.
Now while boiler room fraudsters can get away with running the night life in Bangkok and Pattaya, and buying up property wholesale, I am not even going to begin explain the pitfalls of this to the Croppers other than to say that running nightclubs on Phuket is not like running nightclubs in Nottingham.
Interestingly they were buying property in the district of Chalong in Phuket – the very same district where Briton Ian Rance and Irishman Vard were essentially defrauded out of their millions.
In any case they chose not to buy through ‘A Place in the Sun’.
The BBC’s ‘Wanted in Paradise’ is little better. One episode showed a gay couple from Suffolk, Matt and Andrew, of which Andrew had an executive job with a housing association in the UK.
Hilariously and with dead pan faces they were filmed debating whether to buy an acre of coconut plantation for £130,000 which they were offered in Khanom, in Surat Thani, by an agent with a Nordic accent, or a rundown bungalow resort for £100,000 next to a welders yard (off camera) offered by another foreigner on the nearby resort island of Koh Samui. The resort had sandbags out the front to stop the sea coming in!
They could not move the resort back from the sea because they were backed up against the main road running around this island, which is notorious for its property scams.
In Thai law, it is illegal to construct anything within 20 metres of the highest tidemark. *
Lambs led to the slaughter? They looked the part walking around a market seemingly unable to recognise coriander or coconuts which were not of the ‘coconut shy’ variety, but thankfully they opted out.
All the clients were sold on the friendliness of the Thai people. That’s fine – but it does not stop a smiling fraud.
And selling land and property is by law technically an occupation forbidden to foreigners in Thailand, though with hundreds in the business the law is clearly not enacted.
The producers of the BBC’s ‘Wanted In Paradise’ in their research could should have watched Jonathan Head’s ‘Victoria Derbyshire’ piece. They might have skipped Thailand.
What factual programme on the BBC is crying out for is an investigation into the reality of buying in tropical paradises.
While the makers of ‘A Place in the Sun’ have announced discreetly they have ‘no further plans to film’ in Thailand. they still advertise properties and claim on their website:
“In Thailand foreigners cannot buy freehold property except through a company. Most buy a 30-year lease which is automatically renewable two more times, making 90 years.”
‘A Place in the Sun’ further repeated the claim elsewhere on its website stating:
“It is however possible to purchase a 90-year leasehold contract which provides the option to convert to a freehold any time, either should the law change, or should you wish to set up a company to buy the freehold title.”
“This is the most common method that land is purchased in Thailand and a method fully endorsed by the Thai authorities,” the website states.
Which Thai authorities? Surely not the same ones who announced they would deport anyone who attempted to swerve around Thai property law ad reported in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ and elsewhere.
Its true that the Thai government, due to property slump, may soon give 50 year leases to foreigners but the government still insists that the property will revert to Thai control once that period is up.
|From ‘A Place in the Sun’ website|
The programme makers have been playing with fire. In the Thai resort of Hua Hin ‘A Place in the Sun’ enlisted the help a company called ‘Hua Hin Property Search’ run by Briton Colin Holmes and Swede Anders Engstrom.
On their website for over a year they have boasted: ‘Hua Hin Property Search is working with Channel 4’s ‘A Place in the Winter Sun’ for their winter 2016’.
|The claim on the Hua Hin Property Search website was removed after this story was published|
Alas 2016 has come and gone and there was has been mention of Thailand on ‘A Place in the Sun’
A viewer, who is appalled at the cavalier nature of the programme lost 3 million baht (about £70,000) after getting entangled with Hua Hin Property Search (formerly known as Hua Hin Property Care).
The plan was that he would buy land, through Hua Hin Property Care which would lease the land back to him for ninety years; thirty years as initial lease, an agreement to a further 30 years at no extra cost written into the contract, and a further 30 promised -- just what ‘A Place in the Sun’ said the Thai authorities fully endorsed.
But that land became the subject of a bankrupcty order after a director of the property company went bust.
By telling you this of course, like Jonathan, I could face five years in jail.
The angry viewer is, of course, furious.
From FreeForm TV Anni Lavelle wrote to the disgruntled buyer to end a correspondence after he had complained several times saying:
“We are very sorry to hear of the problems you have encountered in Thailand and I can confirm again that we currently have no plans to film any future episodes of “A Place In The Sun” in Thailand.”
At Channel 4 Viewer Enquiries Kelsey Quinn provided a list of estate agents used in Thailand. They did not include ‘Hua Hin Property Search’ but Freeform did admit being in contact with the HHPS about planned programmes.
“Although the estate agents themselves do not feature on the show and are never mentioned during the body of the programme the properties we showed were represented by FazWaz, Century 21, Siam Real Estate and Phuket.net. As far as we are aware none of these companies has been accused of fraud.
“All contributors are fully aware that legal checks on prospective properties are their responsibility before taking part. In addition each episode has a note saying viewers should use an independent lawyer to buy property anywhere just as they would in the UK. As the Thai system is different to Europe this advice is also explicit in the show near the beginning of the programme.
“During a conversation between presenter and house hunter in the programme the presenter clearly states it is illegal for foreigners to own property freehold in Thailand and advises viewers and the house hunter to check with experts every step of the way. The advice we give in this programme has been checked by local lawyers as well as our own.”
Having said all this, of course, hundreds, even thousands of people have bought property in Thailand, and of course are still happily living in it.
Rules about building on the beach are routinely ignored, particularly all around the islands of Phuket and Samui and the government has been lax in enforcing laws against owning a property by starting a company and putting most of the shareholding in the names of Thai nominees.
Although selling homes and land is an occupation forbidden to foreigners Thais need foreigners to sell to foreigners.
But these laws can be enacted at any time, which means a foreigner runs a risk if he ever were to offend a Thai, who knows his precarious position.
So how as a foreigner do you buy a house in Thailand?
NEXT: UNWANTED IN PARADISE PART II- NOT CRIMINALS.
Jonathan Head on ‘Victoria Derbyshire’ ) -- UK only
Chris Spencer promoting Harlequin Property
Andrew and Matt ‘Wanted in Paradise’
The first story on the Colin Vard fraud in 2011
Foreigners with 30 year leases evicted from paradise island
Charm offensive in UK to buy Thai properties -- Telegraph
Expats Warned of Illegal Home Crackdown in Thailand