French woman Catherine DeLacote’s firm faces asset seizure if found to have used proxy shareholders. Ko Samui officials probe the inheritance saga after a blaze of national publicity. Maid Aunty Tim’s legacy and good fortune may disappear under waves of legal action.

Local officials in Ko Samui are investigating the firm linked to deceased French woman Catherine DeLacote. Ms DeLacote took her own life on April 29th. Afterwards, news emerged that she had bequeathed ฿100 million in her will to her faithful maid. On one hand, officials have clarified that the ฿30 million villa at the centre of the fortune was properly and legally built. On the other hand, however, it appears, her holding firm may have illegally used proxy Thai shareholders. Consequently, this could see the company’s assets seized by the Ministry of the Interior and disposed of according to Thailand’s strict business and company laws.

Scenes from inside the pool area of Ms DeLacote’s ฿30 million hillside villa before she shot herself with a handgun. (Centre) Her faithful maid, 49-year-old Ms Nutwalai Phuponta or ‘Aunty Tim’ who she named in a last message as her executor.

There could be further complications in the story of the inheritance left by a dying French woman to her Thai maid.

Last week, it was reported lawyers acting in connection with the estate of Catherine DeLacote had reprimanded her faithful maid. 49-year-old Nutwalai Phuponta was asked to refrain from speaking to the press.

Ms Nutwalai has since become a hero in the media world and is known affectionately as ‘Aunty Tim’.

At length, the Thai woman made clear her dedication to her former employer. In brief, she told reporters she only wished Ms DeLacoate had not died. She paid tribute to her employer and said she was happy working for her.

Maid paid warm tribute to her French boss. It came as media hype speculated ‘Aunty Tim’ was in line for a ฿100 million windfall from her employer’s estate

It followed headlines and a press-feeding frenzy. This was sparked after it appeared the French woman had bequeathed her maid a fortune of ฿100 million.

It appears that Ms DeLacote left a properly signed will in the safe of her ฿30 million villa in Tambon Mae Nam in Ko Samui. In a note written to the maid before taking her life, the French woman indicated that Ms Nutwalai should be her executor.

In addition, the note indicated that her former husband would be a beneficiary.

Afterwards, the story went to various news outlets and led to speculation. Finally, it was estimated that the estate was worth more like ฿50 million rather than the originally ฿100 million suggested in news reports.

However, this ignored the possibility that the deceased had significant funds in her bank account.

New sources, this week, suggest the focus has come on Ms DeLacote’s Thai company. Local officials in Ko Samui have been investigating the situation.

Dead French woman’s firm is under the microscope of local government agencies in Ko Samui. In particular, the company’s Thai shareholders who own 51%

The lesson here for expats and potential foreign investors in Thailand is telling.

Certainly, forming a limited company in Thailand, if pursued conscientiously and diligently, is often a good plan. Particularly for foreigners coming to Thailand with money to invest or those interested in development.

At the same time, it is not cheap and requires discipline, for instance, to meet reporting and other requirements.

Reports at the start of the week showed that local authorities in Ko Samui have been busy.

In brief, they confirmed that the villa on the holiday island was properly built. This comes after past controversies in Ko Samui, as with other seaside locations in Thailand, over bogus and erroneous land titles.

In this case, the villa property owned by the French woman’s company has been given the all-clear.

GVNE was established in 2012. Currently, Ms DeLacote is listed as the sole director of the concern and 49% owner of its shares. This is indeed not unusual

Ms DeLacote’s firm GVNE was established in Thailand with one lone director. It was established in 2012. This was the French woman herself.

The company was 49% owned by her. In short, this is the maximum shareholding allowed by Thai law.

At the same time, 51% of the shares are reportedly owned by two mysterious Thai shareholders. Certainly, it can be presumed that these shares will be non-voting, which is normal in such arrangements. This allows foreign nationals to control Thai companies.

However, even this is questionable under the finer details of Thailand’s 1999 Foreign Business Act, which set out to ring-fence and control such behaviour by foreigners flocking to Thailand with money.

Reportedly, what is undoubtedly illegal is the use of proxy shareholders. Nonetheless, for decades, it was a common practice and a service offered by certain Thai legal firms.

Thai government has been clamping down hard for decades on the use of proxy Thai shareholders often used by foreign elements to compete in the tourism trade

In recent years, certainly, well over a decade, the Thai government and its regulatory agencies have been clamping down on the practice.

Especially in tourist areas where such arrangements are used to allow foreign operators to compete with Thai interests.

In Ms DeLacote’s company, one shareholder is listed as a Thai man from Ubon Ratchathani. This person held a 35% stake. In the meantime, a Thai woman from Nakhon Si Thammarat held a 16% shareholding.

While the shareholdings are non voting, they have value in the event of the winding up and liquidation of the company’s assets. In theory, these two individuals own 51% of Ms DeLacote’s company holdings.

The situation should be noted by all expats in Thailand, particularly those with Thai company holdings. Such cases may become more common over the coming years.

The test will be whether the two Thai shareholders listed were bone fide business partners in the venture who had agreed to participate on a silent basis

Nonetheless, this scenario may lead to more investigation by Thai authorities.

In view of the fact that the French woman’s company may have illegally used proxy shareholders. Undoubtedly, this is not yet confirmed.

Here the test will be if these individuals were bona fide shareholders. Did they invest their own money? Do they have a genuine working relationship with the deceased woman or her company? Or were they, as the case may be, names provided by a legal practitioner?

If the latter is the case, then the company’s assets may be seized by the Ministry of the Interior. In turn, they can be disposed of by authorities as they see fit.

Conversely, they just may be acquaintances or genuine partners of the French woman. In short, people who invested money and were content to act as silent partners.

If Thai officials act, then the assets may be seized

In the meantime, the lawyers acting for the estate must work on behalf of Ms DeLacote’s interests and wishes. Except if government officials find it is a proxy shareholder arrangement. Then the ground could be cut under their feet. In short, the assets may be seized.

Presently, the matter is being investigated by Colonel Dusit Kay Sorn Kaew, head of the 4th Army’s land investigative unit. In the meantime, any decision or actions will have to be made at the highest level.

Details of Ko Samui French woman’s ฿100 million bequest premature. Lawyers order media blackout

At this time, the executor of Ms DeLacote’s estate will be working to implement her wishes. Any move against the company may have unintended consequences.

Unquestionably, it would send a message to foreigners and expats using such proxy shareholder arrangements.

In the meantime, the executors must get on with the job. Additionally, they may move to establish the nature and position of the silent shareholders 

At the same time, the legal executors must take care not to deprive the intended shareholders of any legitimate rights they may hold.

Finally, although it is now widely presumed that Ms DeLacote took her own life, her behaviour before her death was curious.

Video has emerged which shows the French national typing on a laptop in her pyjamas shortly before killing herself with a .45 calibre handgun.

The woman was known to be sick reportedly with advanced cancer. In the images, she appears thin and wane.

Ms DeLacote’s curious behaviour before she died

She gets up from her workstation, goes inside and returns with a mop.

She uses it to move the CCTV camera angle. Previously the cameras had a full view of the poolside area where the incident occurred.

The French woman had reportedly purchased the gun after the property recently suffered several break-ins from intruders.

On April 29th, a pool attendant found Ms DeLacote’s body on a recliner within the pool area. She had shot herself through the left temple with the gun. The French woman was left-handed.

She had come to Thailand in 2007 with her husband. At length, the couple successfully developed properties in Ko Samui before ultimately divorcing.

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