BANGKOK – Thailand’s Supreme Court on Wednesday affirmed a three-year, two-month prison sentence for a top construction tycoon in connection with a poaching incident in a wildlife sanctuary in which a black panther was shot and cooked over a campfire.
Premchai Karnasuta is president of Italian-Thai Development PLC, one of the country’s biggest and best-known construction companies, which has been involved in mega-projects such as the building of Suvarnabhumi international airport and Bangkok’s mass transit Skytrain system.
The jailing of Premchai is a rare case of a rich, influential Thai having to serve time for wrongdoing. The Thai public has grown weary of repeated examples of wealthy Thais apparently flouting the law with impunity.
The 66-year-old heard the verdict at a court in the western province of Kanchanaburi. He arrived wearing a bandage over one eye, though it wasn’t clear why. Court staff said that after the court appearance, he was taken directly to begin his sentence at a nearby prison.
The poaching incident in February 2018 caused widespread outrage. Premchai was arrested at night at a campsite deep within the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's listed for its rare flora and fauna.
Park rangers found guns and the carcasses of a number of animals nearby including a black panther. The panther had been butchered and its meat cooked up for soup.
Premchai was convicted on several charges including poaching and carrying weapons without a permit. In addition to his prison sentence, he was ordered to pay a share of a 2 million baht ($59,700) fine.
Two men arrested with him – a driver and a hunter – also received prison sentences and fines.
A still-unresolved case involving another of Thailand's richest families is that of Vorayuth Yoovidhya, an heir to the fortune of the family that part-owns the Red Bull drinks company.
He repeatedly avoided meeting with prosecutors for more than four years, following his involvement in a car crash in 2012 that killed a traffic police officer. He eventually fled abroad, three days before a court issued an arrest warrant.