The redevelopment of the former Sukhumvit Square beer-bar site that was bulldozed in 2003 and turned into Chuwit Garden is in jeopardy due to questions over the Soi 10 land plot’s ownership.
Former politician and massage parlor king Chuwit Kamolvisit donated the land to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration 12 years ago and it became a public park named Chuvit Garden.
But in 2006, Chuwit turned the former bar site into Chuwit Garden, which he called a “gift to the public”, but one he kept ownership of. The park was private. And in 2016, telling the media “enough time had passed”, Chuwit locked the gates and sold the prime parcel of land to Land and House Co. for 5 billion baht.
Land and House is now building “Tenth Avenue”, a mixed-use commercial project with 20,000 square meters of office space, 400 hotel rooms, 3,000 square meters of retail space and even a hospital.
The Supreme Court has previously ruled that when land is donated as public property for public use, it cannot be reclaimed by the landowner, setting a legal precedent that may hinder Chuwit’s development plans.
Chuwit Now a Folk Hero?
Chuvit is known for his role as a whistleblower on “gray” Chinese businesses in Thailand, including the Tuhao network and online gambling operations. However, his credibility has come under fire due to his conduct, including allegations of accepting bribes and inconsistencies in his stance on cannabis legalization.
Chuvit’s supporters admire his bravery in confronting corrupt police and underworld figures but fear he may betray their trust by straying off course and breaking his promises.
Many Bangkokians not living in the Sukhumvit area may not even realize that there used to be a small park at the entrance of Soi Sukhumvit 10.
Before it became a park opened on Christmas Eve 2005, the site was Sukhumvit Square, a hub of more than 60 beer bars and a favorite destination for male tourists who popped in for a late-night beer and chit chat with bargirls.
But the bars were forcefully dismantled by about 100 men, led by an army officer armed with a backhoe in the middle of the night on Jan 26, 2003. The incident was headline news the next day.
More than 100 people, including Chuwit, were arrested and charged for their role in dismantling the bars. Chuwit and most of the perpetrators were acquitted by the Criminal Court, but he was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail on appeal to the Appeal Court.
During trial, Chuvit and his family decided to turn the land into a park and donate it to the BMA. In remarks marking the opening, the tycoon announced that he and his family decided to donate the park to set an example to rich people that, when they die, they cannot take any of their wealth with them.
“Even a one-baht coin in their mouths is taken away by the caretakers,” he said.
He mentioned the donation in his written guilty plea to the Supreme Court. His generous act was duly cited in the court’s verdict on Oct 15, 2015, which reduced the Appeal Court’s five-year term to two years.
The verdict also praised Chuvit for cancelling his plan to develop the land into a real estate project.
But two years after his release from jail after having actually served only one year in prison, he became a “changed” man, swallowing his own words about donating the park to the city.
He closed the park to outsiders. He claimed the land title deed still bears his family name and that for the past 18 years had been paying land taxes on the property.
But his development dream now faces obstacles because of the uncertain status of the land. Some are also challenging his ownership of the land after he announced the donation to the BMA 12 years ago.
There is also a controversy regarding the 6-million-baht cash delivered to his Davis Hotel in the Sukhumvit area by two police allegedly acting on behalf of Inspector Sua.
The cash was deposited in Chuwit’s bank account and later donated, 3 million baht apiece, to Ramathibodi and Thammasat University hospitals. The donation was eventually returned by the hospitals when news emerged the money may have been dirty.
Chuvit was accused of being a hypocrite for his attack of the Bhumjaithai Party’s decriminalization of cannabis when a shop, called Chuweed, sells imported cannabis and smoking accessories at his own hotel.
He claimed that 30 billion baht in bribes were paid to scrap the bid for the Orange Line train project which was won by BTSC, but could not produce any evidence to substantiate the claim.
There is no doubt Chuwit is a rare breed who dares stand up to confront corrupt police and underworld figures. But his fans say it will be a pity if he strays off course, breaks his promises and betrays those who admire him for his whistleblowing role.