A Thai tycoon charged with hunting and killing a protected leopard in a national park will not escape justice due to his wealth, the country’s junta leader vowed today, as public outcry rages over impunity for the kingdom’s rich and powerful.
Construction magnate Premchai Karnasuta was arrested along with three others on Sunday night by rangers who stumbled upon their illegal hunting camp in a wildlife sanctuary in western Thailand.
They seized guns, ammunition, and animal carcasses including one of a rare black leopard, leading to police charges for hunting in the national reserve and poaching a protected species.
Premchai is the president of the publicly traded Italian-Thai Development, a Bangkok-based company that helped build Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi airport and the city’s skytrain public transit system known as the BTS.
He has denied the charges and was was swiftly granted bail for under US$5,000 (THB150,000), stirring Thai social media to life with thoughts that another multi-millionaire may evade justice like other mega-rich suspects in a kingdom where power and wealth is often wielded to dodge the law.
Amid mounting outcry junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha said whoever tries to interfere in the case “risks being punished.”
If he is found guilty “it’s not possible to help (Premchai), guilty is guilty no matter how big he is,” he said.
Prayuth’s comments followed the leaking of an unverified audio clip purported to be from the night of Premchai’s arrest in which an unidentified voice discusses the influence of “senior people” in the context of a “loophole in the law.”
Police will investigate the viral clip, thought to be Premchai or one of his hunting party. In it, a voice can be heard asking the wildlife officials arresting them to drop charges in exchange for anything they want, reported Thai PBS.
A deputy police chief said 10 park officials will be questioned to ascertain if they were bribed to allow Premchai’s private safari to hunt in the park.
“I can assure you that no one can lobby to clear this case,” Pol. Gen. Srivara Rangsibhramanakul told reporters today.
Premchai’s predicament has deepened after breaking earlier this week. A police raid yesterday on one of his Bangkok properties revealed weapons and contraband ivory tusks.
In the court of public opinion many are already lining up against the besieged tycoon.
The Thungyai Naresuan national park where Premchai was arrested is in tourist-friendly Kanchanaburi province and hosts wild elephants and tigers among its endangered species.
The slain animals at the campsite were a black leopard, a Kalij pheasant and a red muntjac or barking deer — protected species under Thai conservation law.
Italian-Thai Development has not responded to requests for comment but Premchai denied the charges in local media.
Gen. Surasak Karnjanarat, Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, on Thursday added his weight to the investigation saying “it is quite clear that they did something illegal.”