BANGKOK — The junta Wednesday denied ordering 2,000 northern teak trees cut down for the construction of an elaborate new parliament building in the capital.

Following fierce criticism to news spread online, government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd denied such an order was given for trees to be chopped down at a commercial teak plantation in Chiang Mai’s Doi Saket district.

In fact, Sansern said, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is now seeking to save the trees by ordering the plantation returned to protected status rather than renew its lapsed license.

“The license that allowed the [Forest Industry Organization] to use the protected forest expired July 24, 2015, and they are now seeking renewal,” Sansern said.

The government spokesman said since community members wanted the teak trees preserved, the junta chief ordered the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to return the Mae Ho Phra forest to protected status.

Sansern echoed the same statement as a forestry official who said the land was legally approved for commercial use.

Both Sansern and Pralong Damrongthai of the Forest Department said the developer of the new parliament building asked the Forest Industry Organization for tons of teak planks. The organization later determined that more than 2,000 trees in the Mae Ho Phra forest were available, but no order to cut them down had gone through yet.

The uproar over the teak was the latest in a series of contentious issues to plague the 12 billion baht project to build a riverside parliament building near Bangkok’s Kiak Kai intersection.

The Sappaya Sapasathan complex being built by Sino-Thai Engineering & Construction PCL was to be completed next year, but a series of problems such as a battle over land ownership and concern about its high cost may delay completion until 2019.

Sappaya Sapasathan, which means “peaceful parliament,” was also slammed for its temple-like design. The design team said they wanted to remind politicians of “Thainess” and morality.