Phuket Thai lawyer abandoned his criminal defamation suit against a BBC correspondent after his investigation of his stranger’s fraud in his nursing homes in the country, the station announced Thursday.
Jonathan Head, a BBC correspondent in Southeast Asia, has faced five years in prison after his report revealed how two foreign retirees had their Phuket property stolen by a network of crooks and corrupt officials.
Human rights groups said the case highlighted how Thailand’s broad laws on defamation and cybercrime cancel out investigative journalism and make it difficult to detect unlawful acts in a corrupt endemic country.
The trial lawyer – Pratuan Thanarak – decided to bring charges against Head on the first day of the trial on Wednesday.
“The applicant withdrew his case against BBC journalist Jonathan Head, but as the trial of his co-defendant continues, we can not comment further,” he told the BBC in a brief statement.
Foreigners can not own land in Thailand, but often overlook putting property on behalf of Thais, or establishing majority owned companies owned by Thailand.
The 2015 BBC report details how a network of Phuket criminals, assisted by corrupt officials, stole property from foreigners forging land title transfers.
One of the victims in the report, Briton Ian Rance, is a defendant in the lawsuit. He is still facing a defamation charge and up to two years in prison if convicted.
Rance said he had lost assets of $ 1.2 million after his wife and a group of lenders falsified property documents.
According to the report, Pratuan admitted on tape to certify Rance’s signature without being present, a move that helped the woman transfer her properties out of her name.
She was convicted and imprisoned for fraud, but Rance was affected by a number of legal cases since her public entry, a common result against whistleblowers in Thailand who sells as an ideal destination refuge for wealthy foreigners.
The criminal complaint lodged by Pratuan that the AFP has seen, claims that Rance “has defamed” by talking to the BBC in September 2015, but there are no details about what was said or defamation.
AFP understands that the BBC will continue funding Rance’s defamation defense. Pratuan and Rance declined to comment when contacted by AFP on Thursday, citing ongoing proceedings.
Unlike most countries where defamation is a civil offense, in Thailand it is a criminal offense. Private citizens can also initiate their own demands and are not required to pay their costs if they lose. Similar cases have been introduced in recent years.
The local Phuketwan news site closed in 2015 after running out of money on its successful bid to defeat a lawsuit filed by the Thai Navy.
Andrew Drummond, a British journalist felony, left the country that year because of the multiple cases he filed, such as British labor rights activist Andy Hall in 2016.