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Thailand Toughens Laws Criminalizing Sexual Assault

The Thailand parliament passed a host of new sexual assault amendments to the Thai Penal Code that significantly increases penalties on those who commit sexual offenses.

The new penalties also broaden the legal definition of sexual assault.

Previously, sexual offenses were somewhat narrowly defined by Thailand’s Penal Code.

The recent changes to the code are intended to reflect a more modern understanding of victim’s rights and sexual abuse cases.

Specifically, the amended version of Section 27 of Thailand’s Criminal Code states that a person who rapes another through force, coercion, or taking advantage of them while they are unable to resist will now face 4-20 years imprisonment and a fine of 80,000-100,000 baht.

Additionally, if the perpetrator of the sexual assault has a firearm, he or she will face 7-20 years and a fine up to 400,000 baht. In cases of group or “gang-rape”, the offenders in question will face up to life imprisonment.

The Thai Penal Code also now legally defines both forced or coerced sodomy and oral sex as forms of sexual assault.

Potential life imprisonment will also be doled out now for individuals who rape a minor aged 13 or under.

Penalties in these cases will be doubled if the perpetrator shares footage of the sexual assault online.

Stricter penalties for abetting or benefitting from prostitution as well as coercing individuals into the sex trade were also codified in the country’s updated Penal Code.

Legal Marijuana Use Could Block Pathway to Citizenship for Immigrants

Consuming marijuana—even if it’s obtained through a legal cannabis dispensary—could now potentially block immigrants from securing US citizenship.

According to a US Citizenship and Immigration Services policy change passed in April, consuming or selling weed may show a lack of moral character.

Citizens hoping to obtain US citizenship oftentimes must display to USCIS officers that they have “good moral character”.

The policy doesn’t only target those who have been convicted in a court of law of buying, using, or selling marijuana either.

Those who openly admit during their citizenship process of using weed in the past also face the potential outcome of having their petition for citizenship denied on grounds of displaying poor moral character, even if they haven’t used the drug in years.

Although the definition of “good moral character” may seem vague and ambiguous on its face, US immigration law does not necessarily provide for the same constitutional protections that other types of US law provide.

Furthermore, immigration and citizenship cases are wholly contingent on federal laws rather than state laws.

Federal law still prohibits the consumption of marijuana under any circumstances.

Since drug laws codified at the federal level preempt state laws that permit marijuana use both recreationally or medicinally, even the use of legal weed could potentially be viewed as a criminal activity—i.e. poor moral character–in the eyes of USCIS officers.

Thailand Clamping Down on Thai Nominees Used by Foreign Investors

Thailand’s Department of Special Investigations (DSI) is currently building a web-based program that can track down individuals who violate the country’s Foreign Business Act.

Specifically, the department will use the program to go after Thais who act as Thai nominee shareholders for foreign investors.

Nominees are Thai nationality shareholders and directors of companies that hope to skirt legal restrictions on foreigners doing business or owning land in Thailand.

Thailand business and land laws require that Thais must own a majority of shareholding of any company operating in a foreigner restricted industry.

The basic requirement is usually 51% Thai nationality ownership. However, certain laws require even greater Thai nationality ownership.

Law offices and real estate sales companies have traditionally been the provider of “nominee” shareholders.

However, nominee ownership is, and has been, clearly illegal for some time in Thailand.

The Thai government’s rationale for requiring by law Thai majority ownership and going after pseudo-shareholders is to safeguard Thai businesses and Thai landowners from unfair competition from large foreign companies.

Authorities have prosecuted numerous companies and individuals for violating Thailand nominee law restrictions.

The DSI’s nominee-tracking program will first launch in Surat Thani and Chiang Mai.

US Immigration Office in Bangkok Ceasing Operations

The US State Department announced that it plans to close all of its overseas US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field offices throughout the coming year, including Thailand’s immigration office located in Bangkok.

USCIS field offices typically handle family visa requests and issues, international adoptions, and a wide range of other more specialized immigration services.

The Bangkok USCIS office is the regional “hub” office for Southeast Asia.

The USCIS has another 22 offices spread across regions of Latin America, Asia, and Europe.

Based on the planned closures, USCIS field office services will be transferred to US embassies and consulates as well as the State Department.

Specific key functions that can be expected to be taken care of by embassies and consulates after the change include petitions from citizens attempting to bring their family members to the US, processing requests from asylum seekers and refugees, assisting US citizens in adopting foreign children, naturalizing US military personnel who don’t yet hold citizenship, and investigating fraudulent visa applications.

Our law firm’s most frequent cases involving the local Bangkok USCIS office have primarily been returning US resident family visa applications and renouncing permanent residency status.

The services provided by the Bangkok USCIS office will likely be assumed by the US Embassy in Thailand or US-based USCIS offices.

The closure will primarily affect US citizens residing in Thailand who seek to petition for family-based US visas for immediate family members.

Under the current system, US residents in Thailand can often use the Bangkok USCIS directly, saving significant time.

New Real Estate Right Recognized by Thai Law

Thai law allows for various legal methods to give “grantees” a right to use real estate, (referred to as “immovable property” under Thai real estate law) as leases, superficies (allowing the grantee to own buildings and other structures on land), usufructs (allowing the grantee the possession of, use of, or enjoyment of the benefits of an owner’s land), and habitation (allowing the grantee to reside on another’s land).

Some of the pitfalls of these rights for a grantee are that they are not easily transferable to third parties and are not readily available as collateral for a loan since the consent of the landlord is normally required. 

A new type of real estate right has been created that may assist in providing more expansive rights to grantees.

The new right is known as a “Sap-Ing-Sith”. In addition to using the underlying property as they would under a normal lease, holders of a Sap-Ing-Sith can also transfer the right to a third party or use it as collateral for a loan without the need to obtain consent from the landlord.

Only land covered by a Chanote (a title deed in Thailand land law), buildings constructed on Chanote, and condos can benefit from a Sap-Ing-Sith.

A Sap-Ing-Sith is created by an agreement by the landlord and grantee in writing. The period of a Sap-Ing-Sith can last up to 30 years and must be registered with a Thailand land office, which will in turn issue a Sap-Ing-Sith certificate.