An American investor and his Thai partner could face the death penalty for allegedly violating Thailand's sovereignty by building a floating house off the coast of the country.
Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet, who are both investors in the virtual currency Bitcoin, are currently at an unknown destination after spending several weeks on the seastead installed in February some 12 nautical miles off the coast of Phuket, a popular tourist spot.
The cabin, some six meters in diameter, was a pilot test of the Ocean Builders project, promoted by entrepreneurs who, according to its web page, promote steasteading, the concept of creating permanent dwellings at sea.
The Royal Thai Navy on Monday filed a complaint at a police station in Phuket alleging that the couple had violated Article 119 of the penal code that regulates threats on the national integrity and is punishable with a death penalty or life imprisonment if found guilty.
The navy in a statement released on Facebook said the couple wanted to create a community with an aim of making an independent state within the maritime territory of Thailand by exploiting legal loopholes in the UN convention on the law of the sea.
Rattanachai Siangsanor, a police spokesperson, told EFE that the investigation into the case had been transferred to the provincial police and no arrest warrant had been issued against the couple.
Elwartowski wrote in a Facebook post that they lived on a seastead for a couple of weeks and now Thailand wanted to kill them and neither he nor his partner had participated in its designing, construction or finance.
The Bitcoin investor is a software engineer who worked for the United Sates government in Afghanistan and Iraq and made a fortune with an investment in the virtual currency, along with his partner who is also known as Bitcoin Girl in Thailand and uses a nickname Nadia Summergirl.
Elwartowski on Tuesday said on Facebook that he and his partner were safe.
He did not comment on the allegations or the situation when EFE contacted him on Thursday through email.
Ocean Builders in a statement on their website said that "Chad and Nadia were volunteers excited about the prospect of living free”.
“They took pictures and videos of the whole process and posted it on social media. They spent a few weeks on the seastead and documented their adventure."
“The team surrounding the project were early adopters of Bitcoin, and with the wealth acquired that way it has spent around $150,000 on the project."
Ocean Builders however denied any involvement of Elwartowski and rebutted the navy's allegations that the seastead was interfering with the cargo traffic.
The organization, that made a call on Apr.10 to attract investors and expand the project to around 20 houses, announced the suspension of its activities until the situation was resolved.
The authorities said that they were preparing to remove the installation out of the sea.