Thai helper’s bid to access US$2.7 million of assets inherited from French employer hits legal bump

A Thai domestic helper’s bid to access 100 million baht (US$2.7 million) worth of assets she inherited from her French employer who was found dead at her villa has hit a legal bump as officials scrutinise the will.

Police suspect Catherine Delacote shot herself to death after being diagnosed with cancer. A pistol was also recovered from the home on Koh Samui island in the southern Thai province of Surat Thani last week.

A worker spotted Delacote’s body next to the swimming pool in her residence, where she lived alone after divorcing her husband.

She bequeathed her fortune, including a luxury villa, cash and a plot of land, to Nutwalai Pupongta who had worked for her for 17 years.

People relax on Lamai beach on Thailand’s Koh Samui island on April 9. Photo: AFP

Police said an investigation was under way to ascertain the shareholdings in a company that owned a hotel passed on to Nutwalai.

The helper said the businesswoman transferred her 500,000 baht for holding the funeral services and asked her to take care of her three cats.

Delacote had a 49 per cent stake in the hotel and two Thais held the rest, but Nutwalai’s efforts to take possession of the property could be complicated if the firm illegally involved local residents as proxies.

Under Thai law, foreigners are not allowed to own more than 49 per cent of real estate in the country.

Lawyer and former culture minister Niphit Intharasombat said the interior ministry could sell a company’s assets if it unlawfully included a proxy shareholder.

Koh Samui police chief Krairoek Ngamsri-on said Delacote’s lawyer could distribute her wealth to Nutwalai using a court order, The Bangkok Post reported.

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But Ratchapol Pulsawasdi, president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, said that process was not easy as it required the consent of the other two shareholders.

Ratchapol added the Frenchwoman’s case also served as a caution for non-locals investing in the kingdom’s property sector without knowing Thai law.

“Especially after the Russia-Ukraine war, Russian investors brought a lot of money to invest in buying real estate but still do not understand the law, causing problems,” he said.

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