By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
The attorney for the Office of the Public Prosecution Region 7, Somjet Amnuaysawat, yesterday said that the Thong Pha Phum Provincial Court would today begin interrogating witnesses and examining the evidence in the black panther poaching case against Italian-Thai Development president Premchai and his three associates. He said the prosecutors and plaintiffs were certain that the evidence was strong enough to ensure conviction of the defendants.
In February, Premchai and three other persons – Yong Dodkrua, Thanee Thummat and Nathee Riamsaen – allegedly entered Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi province. Forest rangers found that they had illegally poached many wild animals, including a black leopard, a Kalij pheasant, and a barking deer inside the protected wildlife reserve, leading to their arrest on site.
Premchai and his companions were initially charged with nine crimes by the police investigation team, but later the charges were reduced to six for Premchai, seven for Yong, eight for Thanee and five for Nathee.
According to earlier reports, Yong was Premchai’s personal driver, Thanee was a restaurant owner in Bangkok, while Nathee was a cook for the team of poachers.
Somjet said the court hearing of the witnesses was an important step forward in this poaching case, after the legal process was stalled for several months due to the legal tactics of the defence.
“The court would have begun looking at the evidence and hearing the witnesses in June, but the defendants’ side sought transfer of the case to the Corruption and Misconduct Court. The Appeal Court took around two months to rule on the plea before deciding in August that the case should be heard by the Thong Pha Phum Provincial Court,” he said.
“This was clearly a tactic by the defendants to prolong the legal process in order to buy more time. But we are confident that in the end they will not be able to escape the law and punishment.”
Somjet said that under normal circumstances, the witness interrogation process would take around one month with the last witness expected to testify by the end of December. The court can then consider evidence from all sides and deliver the verdict by mid-January.
However, he said that this was just the beginning of the first round of the court process and it was very likely that the defendants, if ruled guilty, would petition a review by the Appeal Court and then move onwards to the Supreme Court. So, it would still be a long court battle ahead until the final word is heard.
“Many people may wonder why the litigation in this case is taking so long, when many other illegal poaching cases are very swiftly prosecuted. This is because the defendants in those cases quickly confessed to their crimes, so their cases were much simpler than this one,” he explained. He urged the public to keep their eyes on this case.