Hunters must face justice
The case of a top construction tycoon involved in a blatant hunting incident in the World Heritage Thungyai Naresuan sanctuary conservation area in Kanchanaburi province is appalling.
Premchai Karnasuta, the president of the huge Stock Exchange of Thailand-listed construction company Italian-Thai Development Plc, and three other suspects were apprehended on Sunday by a team of forest rangers, in the no-camping zone of the world heritage site in Kanchanaburi's Thong Pha Phum district.
Carcasses of an Indochinese leopard, an endangered species, and a number of other animals, together with three expensive long-barrelled guns, were found and confiscated by the rangers. Photos of the carcasses, and the tycoon with the weapons in front of him at the scene, stirred public anger.
The 63-year-old tycoon denied all the charges, and with 150,000-baht bail, he has now walked free.
Since the arrest made headline news on Sunday, the public has been speculating about whether Mr Premchai and other suspects would eventually escape the long arm of the law with the use of wealth and power.
Leading conservationists have begun to worry that the case will end in a cover-up while some legal experts have pointed out how the wealthy suspect may benefit from legal loopholes and never be found guilty of anything.
Assurances from a number of cabinet ministers that the authorities would case pursue in accordance with the law has done little to quell their concerns which are valid for several reasons.
To begin with, Mr Premchai's access to and camping in the sanctuary's protected area, which is restricted, is not usual. The case testifies to the special treatment the tycoon has enjoyed, obviously because of his social status.
The head of the conservation agency conceded she received a number of phone calls made in an attempt to clear the way for the tycoon to visit the area. The official said the permission was not irregular, and that the agency would grant it to anyone. Such a claim raises eyebrows, however. It also remains unclear why the tycoon was able to bring rifles and other guns into the protected area.
Since the arrest, it has been reported on social media that there have been attempts to whitewash the case.
A voice clip was released to the media giving the impression that the suspect tried to seek help from his influential connections. During what appeared to be a telephone conversation following the arrest, a man on the other end of the line assured that help "was possible", given legal loopholes. This is sad but it can often be true.
Some conservationists said it can be far too easy for investigators to turn a blind eye to the forensic evidence, if not deliberately to discredit it, to give the culprits the benefit of the doubt. Without strong evidence, they would then be judged as innocent when the case goes to court.
The Thungyai hunting case is not just a conservation issue. It reflects the country's poor record concerning double standards in the legal process. Some social media users raised the case of an elderly couple in the Northeast who last year were sentenced to five years in jail for collecting mushrooms in a forest reserve and other cases of ordinary people, many local conservationists, who were arrested on their ancestral land that was also classified as forest area.
Vanchai Tantivitayapitak, former president of the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, said ordinary people would be thrown in jail immediately over the merest hint of poaching. This does not happen to the rich.
The criticism shows how faith in the state and justice mechanisms has eroded.
The government and authorities have a duty to quell the speculation over double standards and ensure those in the wrong are brought to justice.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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