Construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta was released from prison on Tuesday, seven weeks before the end of his sentence on Dec 7.
The Department of Corrections said a committee met on Monday to review proposals to commute the sentences of 567 eligible inmates, and 484 were approved. Of the latter, 113 inmates won permission to be released on Tuesday, including Premchai.
The former head of Italian-Thai Development Plc had been serving time in Thong Pha Phum prison in Kanchanaburi for hunting wildlife — including killing a rare black panther, a kalij pheasant and a barking deer — in Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary in 2018.
The Department of Corrections said Premchai, 69, qualified for early release because he was suffering from diabetes.
The disease had resulted in some dead tissue around his ankle being removed. To avoid further injury to his ankle, he will not be required to wear an electronic monitoring (EM) ankle bracelet, on condition that he report regularly to department officials during his probation.
Premchai, wearing a short-sleeved blue shirt and grey trousers and using a walking stick, was picked up outside the prison by his lawyers. He declined to speak to reporters.
Witoon Yimprai, his lawyer, said Premchai’s family was relieved at his release. Because of his health issues, Premchai would be sent to Bumrungrad Hospital for treatment, Mr Witoon said.
Premchai and three others were arrested on the night of Feb 4, 2018 for illegal hunting in the sanctuary, which is a Unesco World Heritage site, in Kanchanaburi. They were found in possession of several dead animals, including a rare black leopard and its pelt. Premchai insisted he did not shoot the leopard.
Prosecutors subsequently indicted Premchai and others for breaching laws related to reserved forest land, wild animal conservation and environmental protection, as well as possessing firearms without permission and malfeasance in office.
Premchai was convicted in the lower court in Kanchanaburi in March 2019 along with driver Yong Dodkruea, hunter Thanee Thummat and Nathee Riemsaen, Premchai’s maid who served as a cook at the illegal camp. They appealed, and in December 2019 the Court of Appeal increased their sentences.
Nathee was given a suspended term of one year and eight months and did not appeal further, but the three men took their case to the Supreme Court.
On Dec 8, 2021, the highest court handed sentences of two years and 14 months to Premchai, to be served concurrently; two years and 17 months to Yong, and two years and 21 months to Thanee. Thanee had died of cancer in July 2021.
All three men were acquitted on one count but were found guilty of possessing wildlife carcasses and their jail terms of eight months for that offence remained in force.
The Supreme Court also upheld a Court of Appeal order that they pay 2 million baht in compensation for the damage to nature that resulted from their illegal hunting.
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