Tycoon sentenced for poaching protected wildlife gets early release from prison

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Tycoon sentenced for poaching protected wildlife gets early release from prison Thai tycoon Premchai Karnasuta leaves the Thong Pha Phum Provincial Court in Kanchanaburi province after his conviction on illegal hunting charges, March 19, 2019.
Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP

A Thai tycoon convicted of poaching endangered wildlife was ordered released from prison on Tuesday after the corrections department cut more than a year off his 38-month prison sentence, officials said.

Premchai Karnasuta, 69, former chairman of Italian-Thai Development Public Co. Ltd., one of Thailand’s biggest construction firms, must report to authorities through Dec. 7, the corrections department said in a statement approving “the release of Premchai on Oct. 17, 2023.”

“But due to his health issues … the subcommittee allows him to be released without wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle,” the department said, noting that Premchai had surgery on his right ankle where there was “dead tissue from uncontrollable diabetes.” 

He was one of 113 released from custody, according to the department.

The tycoon and three of his company’s employees were arrested at the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary in February 2018 after park rangers found them with guns and the skinned carcasses of protected wildlife species, including a black panther.

The businessman’s arrest caused a public furor against Premchai and unleashed a debate over whether the nation’s richest citizens were immune from prosecution.

Graffiti artists sprayed Bangkok’s deserted walls with paintings of the dead panther, and the Thai catchphrase “The black cat will not die for free” became a protest symbol on social media.

In December 2021, the nation’s highest court upheld Premchai’s conviction and 38-month sentence on charges of carrying a gun in a public place without a permit, hunting in a wildlife sanctuary, jointly possessing a carcass and harming the forest reserve. That sentence was to run until February 2025.

After that ruling, Premchai was escorted to the Thong Pha Phum prison to serve his sentence. 

The court also upheld jail terms for two accomplices, according to a news release at the time, and ordered all to pay fines totaling 2 million baht fine (U.S. $60,000). The fourth defendant was sentenced previously to two years’ probation.

During his 2019 sentencing, Premchai did speak to reporters, saying: “I have a word to say: I apologize.”

The defendant testified in December 2018, telling reporters he was excited while heading into the courtroom.

“I’m tired. ... Let it be the court’s consideration,” Premchai said hours later.

His construction company’s projects include Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and the Bangkok Metro system.

In May 2021, Forbes magazine dropped Premchai from the list of Thailand’s 50 richest people. In 2017, the magazine had estimated his net worth to be at least $240 million (7.6 billion baht).


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