BANGKOK – Roger Harpel an American businessman who says he was cheated out of 40 million baht by his late wife and her family has sought assistance from the Rights and Liberties Protection Department of the Justice Ministry, seeking custody of their daughter and return of the money.
Harpel told the department’s director-general Pol Col Narat Savettanan that his late wife Nattiyanee Suwanrat embezzled more than 40 million baht of his assets and gave them to her mother, Sumalee Suwanrat, and her cousins.
He said he has been settled in Thailand since 1989. He married a Thai woman and they were later divorced. Later, he married Nattiyanee in a village ceremony without having the marriage registered. They have a girl, now aged 11.
In 2005, he established a real estate company, Earth 666 Ltd, and an export company, KGE. He appointed Nattiyanee a director and she operated the company on his behalf.
In 2007, Mr Harpel learned that Nattiyanee had embezzled 11 million baht of the company’s assets and channeled them to her cousins.
She was arrested and later released on bail to fight the case. During the negotiations, Nattiyanee took their daughter away, using her as leverage to have him drop the charges. However, during the negotiations Nattiyanee died in an accident.
Her mother, Ms Sumalee, sought the right to be the girl’s legal guardian. Mr Harpel and Ms Sumalee were appointed to settle Nattiyanee’s estate together. They reached a compromise, also agreeing that if one side sells their share of the assets, the other side must be informed.
Mr Harpel said some of the assets have been sold, and he had not received any of his stake back. As a result he is destitute and his house faces foreclosure by a court order.
He claimed to have a legal document stating he is the father of his daughter, and wants a court order confirming his paternity. He also asked the department to appoint a lawyer to help him fight the case to get back his assets, and provide an interpreter to help him understand the case details.
“Before I came here, I had 25 million baht for investment in Thailand. With no knowledge of the Thai language, I was at a disadvantage,” said Mr Harpel, who is staying at Wat Charoen Dhammaram in Soi Dao district of Chanthaburi province.
“Now I don’t think about it a lot, but would like to get my assets back.”
A senior monk at Wat Charoen Dhammaram said he met Mr Harpel wandering hopelessly at Mae Pim beach in Rayong province. Mr Harpel had stayed at the temple for over three months and he helped teach English to the monks.
Pol Col Narat said the department will help by providing a lawyer and be responsible for the court fees and DNA test fee in order to ensure justice in this case.