THAI police have summoned the president of the Italian-Thai Development Ltd (ITD) construction company for additional questioning regarding the poaching of endangered species in a wildlife conservation area.
Premchai Karnasuta, 63, is the son of Chaiyuth Karnasuta who co-founded ITD, one of the largest construction companies in Thailand. ITD has been responsible for a number of Thailand’s biggest infrastructure projects including motorways, the BTS Skytrain network and Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Given Premchai’s affluence and influence, there are concerns that he will be able to avoid justice, despite having been caught red-handed on Feb 4 (Sunday), in the World Heritage Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary with hunting weapons and the carcass of a rare black Indochinese leopard.
The Indochinese leopard, which is critically endangered worldwide, was once indigenous across Southeast Asia but has since gone extinct in Laos and Vietnam. Protected forests in Thailand, Burma (Myanmar) and Malaysia provide the last remaining habitats for these wild cats. It’s believed there are only about 100 surviving black leopards in Thailand’s Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary.
The carcass of the slain leopard indicates that the creature was shot eight times and according to the forest rangers who arrested Premchai, the construction magnate and his fellow hunters cooked and ate the leopard in a soup.
— stephff cartoonist (@stephffart) February 8, 2018
During Premchai’s arrest by Chief Forest Ranger Wichian Chinwong the billionaire allegedly attempted to bribe the forest rangers to release him. A bribery complaint has since been filed against Premchai by the forest rangers.
Premchai, who denies all claims of wrongdoing, was released after initial police questioning, on THB150,000 (US$4,750) bail. He must return to police custody on Feb 18. The construction mogul has since been placed on the immigration department’s watch list, amidst fears that he may flee the country, in the way other affluent suspects have escaped justice in Thailand.
There are also concerns for the safety of the forest rangers who arrested Premchai. According to Professor Khwanchai Duangsathaporn, of Kasetsart University’s Forestry Faculty, forestry officials frequently lack support during high-profile cases like this, often finding themselves charged and harassed after arresting influential individuals.
Wichian has since been summoned by the police regarding his failure to collect the THB110 (US$3) entrance fee from Premchai and his group when they initially arrived at the park on what they purported to be a scientific research trip. The investigation continues and it remains unclear whether the forest ranger who apprehended the poachers will be disciplined as a result of not collecting the fee.
The slaughter of the endangered black leopard has attracted wide attention on social media with netizens calling for justice and offering support for the forestry rangers. An online petition calling for transparency and justice in the case, has already received 120,000 signatures.
Princess Ubolratana, the eldest child of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has offered her support to the forest rangers via an Instagram account @nichax, with the words “Fight on Khun Wichien Chinnawong”.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha also commented on the case, explaining that Thailand’s laws were for everyone to follow, regardless of status or influence, “No one can help, no matter how big they are, if proven to be in the wrong.”
It remains to be seen whether Thailand’s justice system has the legal frameworks and the willingness to convict one of the country’s most influential businessmen.