Tycoon jailed for hunting wildlife

Tycoon jailed for hunting wildlife

Premchai verdict hailed as victory for rule of law

Premchai Karnasuta, in the white shirt, gets help putting on his suit as he arrives with a bandage over his left eye and a walking cane at Thong Pha Phum court in Kanchanaburi on Wednesday. (Photo: Piyarat Chongcharoen)
Premchai Karnasuta, in the white shirt, gets help putting on his suit as he arrives with a bandage over his left eye and a walking cane at Thong Pha Phum court in Kanchanaburi on Wednesday. (Photo: Piyarat Chongcharoen)

Local and international wildlife conservation organisations have welcomed the Supreme Court's decision to sentence construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta to a prison term of three years and two months for hunting in Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary nearly four years ago.

The ruling was read out at Thong Pha Phum Provincial Court in Kanchanaburi on Wednesday.

Premchai, the 66-year-old president of Italian-Thai Development Plc, arrived at the court with a walking cane and a bandage over his left eye.

The two other defendants in the case were also present in court.

His former driver Yong Dodkruea, 68, was sentenced to three years and five months while his hunter Thanee Thummat, 59, got three years and nine months.

A member of the legal team representing Premchai whose name was not disclosed told reporters his client had no message to pass to the media aside from the fact that he respected the court's decision.

The Supreme Court upheld the lower court's jail terms, despite the fact that the Wild Animal Preservation and Protection Act was amended two years ago to exclude punishment for accepting wildlife carcasses.

All three men were acquitted on that count but were still found guilty of possessing wildlife carcasses and their jail terms of eight months for that offence remained in force.

The Supreme Court also upheld the Appeal Court's order that they must pay 2 million baht in compensation for damage to nature resulting from their illegal hunting.

The defendants were ordered to be fitted with electronic tags while waiting to be taken to Thong Pha Phum prison. They were also tested for Covid-19.

The three defendants, along with a cook, were arrested at their camp in Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary in tambon Chalae of Thong Pha Phum district on Feb 4, 2018, for hunting wildlife, including killing a rare black panther, a kalij pheasant and a barking deer. They also faced other related charges.

The Appeal Court gave the jail terms to Premchai, Yong and Thanee in December 2019. They appealed to the Supreme Court.

Nathee Riemsaen, the 46-year-old cook, was given a suspended prison term of one year and eight months. She did not appeal.

Panudet Kerdmali, secretary-general of the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, voiced his appreciation of the court's verdict.

"The Premchai case is a very significant precedent in Thailand, which now wants to see fair treatment in society.

"At least, it will deter people who are planning to commit crimes against wildlife," he said, adding the next challenge to protect the fertile western forest complex will be finding ways to work with the local community to protect wildlife.

The World Wide Fund for Nature hailed the verdict as a victory for wildlife and the rule of law, sending a clear message that wildlife crime will not be tolerated no matter who is responsible.

"Today justice was served, and Thailand should be proud," it said.

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said the ruling proves no one is above the law.

Premchai is being detained in a Covid-19 isolation zone of Thong Pha Phum district prison where he will spend 21 days in quarantine.

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