A Thai criminal court sentenced one of the country’s wealthiest men Tuesday to 16 months in prison after finding him guilty of illegal hunting in a wildlife sanctuary, but acquitted him of the more serious charge of possession of a black panther carcass.
Premchai Karnasuta, the president of construction giant Italian-Thai PLC, and three of his company’s employees were arrested at Thung Yai Naresuan National Park in February last year after park rangers found them with guns and the skinned carcass of a panther and other wildlife species protected under Thai law, authorities said. Premchai and the three men pleaded not guilty in May and were released on bail.
“The first defendant is sentenced to six months in jail for jointly carrying guns in public place, eight months for supporting others to hunt wildlife, two months for possessing the carcass of a gray peacock-pheasant – a total of 16 months in jail,” the court sheet distributed to the media stated, referring to Premchai.
The Thong Pha Phum provincial court acquitted Premchai of possessing the panther carcass – the highlight of the case that ignited national outrage and spurred public skepticism about whether rich Thais are immune from the law. The court found the three other men guilty of possessing the panther carcass and ordered each of them to serve a variety of sentences, from four months to more than three years.
Premchai and one of the defendants were ordered to pay fines of 2 million baht (about U.S. $64,500) for the damages caused to the wildlife sanctuary in western Kanchanaburi province.
“I have a word to say: I apologize,” Premchai told a throng of reporters as he walked to his luxury SUV.
One of Premchai’s co-defendants, a helper who was not involved in the hunt, received a two-year probation. Premchai and the two others were temporarily released on bail, their lawyers said, emphasizing that they would appeal.
“We will refute the charges,” Kijja Ali-Isho, one of the defense lawyers, told reporters.
The black panther is a subspecies of the Indochinese black leopard, according to environmentalists who said about 900 to 2,500 remain in the wild.
Premchai’s company built Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and the Bangkok Metro system. In May 2017, Forbes magazine listed him among Thailand’s 50 richest people, with a net worth of at least U.S. $240 million (7.6 billion baht).
An activist from the pro-wildlife group T’Challa said the verdict was acceptable to him but expressed concerns on why the tycoon was acquitted on the more serious charge of “panther carcass possession.”
“I feel OK with the verdict. The court took only over a year to decide that is pretty quick,” Tatpong Kaedam told BenarNews.
“But the court should have explained why Premchai was acquitted of possessing panther carcass. We will keep campaigning to not let the panther forgotten,” he said. “The society wants to see the rich getting punished.”