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Some 300 ‘duped’ Kalasin villagers face court appearance

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THE JUSTICE MINISTRY is aiding 300 villagers in Kalasin who claimed to have been duped by a community-based financial institute to take out a Bt150,000-Bt200,000 loan per head, totalling Bt65 million, from a bank to fund the institute’s operations and then faced lawsuits by the bank demanding they repay the debts.

Kalasin Probation Office director Narong Khamphetch, along with Kalasin Dhamrongtham Centre head Chaiya Kruahong, oversaw registration of alleged victims at the Tha Khan Tho district office’s hall yesterday. 
Victims were divided into three groups: 23 people already ordered by a court to repay the debts, 179 others currently facing lawsuits and some 100 other about to be sued.

Some 300 ‘duped’ Kalasin villagers face court appearance
Each group will receive appropriate aid, said the ministry.

Victims’ fears allayed
Narong said he had been assigned to inform the alleged victims about the steps involved, which parts of the law that they had to abide by – such as presenting themselves to court as summoned to make way for debt settlements – and to find solutions to the issues. 
As Narong gave assurances that officials would stand by them and ensure justice, the villagers seemed less tense and agreed to go to the court as summoned. 
Victim Kanchana Charee, 47, said a representative of the Tha Khan Tho community’s financial institute had verbally invited residents, most of whom were poor villagers, to borrow Bt200,000 each from the Government Saving Bank’s Tha Khan Tho branch office for the institute operations. The residents had been told that they would each get a Bt10,000 “dividend”, while the institute would take the rest of money to invest for profits and would repay the loans on their behalf.
The residents joined the program in 2014-16. Kanchana and her husband received a Bt15,000 “dividend” after securing the Bt350,000 for the institute and had already spent it. Until January 2017, Kanchana and other villagers received letters from the Kalasin Court telling them to repay the debts as the institute had never repaid the loans to the bank, she claimed. 
Villagers filed complaints with the Damrongtham Centre, resulting in a negotiation with the bank but the villagers refused to repay the debts. 
They also lodged police complaints alleging fraud against the institute president and the person who requested they borrow the money. The villagers had not heard much since filing the complaint but it had reportedly being passed onto prosecutors, Kanchana said. 
The villagers petitioned the Justice Minister for help on December 26, asking for the Department of Special Investigation to take up the case and for help in stopping the bank from trying to collect the debts pending outcome of the investigation into the alleged fraud. The petition led to the ministry-organised event yesterday. 
“The villagers and I are afraid that we will end up being the sole guilty party, despite the fact that we were duped into the loan contracts,” Kanchana said.

Published : January 05, 2018

By : Chompit Pinmuang The Nation