By The Nation
CONSTRUCTION tycoon Premchai Karnasuta was sentenced to one year in jail yesterday after being found guilty of trying to bribe officials while being arrested at the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi early last year.
The Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases Region 7 meted out the guilty verdict against Premchai after hearing during the trial that Premchai had asked arresting officials: “Can you help me? Or do you have any condition? If you release me, I will bring whatever you wish for”.
The court said that though Premchai did not specifically say what exactly he would give the officials in return for his release, his words strongly suggested an intention to bribe.
Under Thai law, offering bribes to induce officials to do, not do or delay their duties is a crime punishable by a maximum jail term of five years and/or fine of Bt10,000.
Premchai’s aide Yong Dodkhruea, who was arrested along with the tycoon at the wildlife sanctuary last year, was also named in the bribery case, but the court acquitted him of the charge.
After hearing the verdict yesterday, Premchai was granted bail on a Bt200,000 guarantee and has 30 days to appeal the verdict. As he walked out of court, he was surrounded by reporters asking about his next move.
“I will appeal,” he said, refusing to elaborate and only saying that he needs to fully understand the situation first.
The one-year jail term on bribery will be added to the 16-month term the powerful president of Italian-Thai Development Co was handed by the Thong Pha Phum Provincial Court on March 20 in relation to the poaching case involving Premchai and several accomplices, including Yong.
The 16-month term included six months for carrying firearms in public without permission, eight months for “aiding others in hunting game in a wildlife sanctuary without permission” and two months for possessing the carcass of a protected species – a Kalij pheasant – without permission.
Yong was jailed for 13 months for carrying a weapon and illegally possessing the carcass of a black leopard. Two other defendants, both of whom worked for Premchai, were also convicted of related crimes.
Premchai’s driver Thanee Thummart was sentenced to two years and 17 months in prison for several offences, including possession of the black leopard’s carcass and hunting inside a wildlife sanctuary. Premchai’s cook Natee Riemsan received a suspended four-month jail term and was fined Bt10,000 for possessing the leopard carcass.
The Thong Pha Phum court also ordered Premchai and Thanee to pay Bt2 million plus 7.5 per cent annual interest in compensation to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, which oversees the Thung Yai Naresuan wildlife sanctuary.
Premchai, Yong and Thanee are now out on bail pending a possible appeal. The Department of Appellate Litigation Region 7 in May appealed against the first court’s decision, saying Premchai should have been punished for other offences too
Premchai is fighting another court battle over the illegal possession of the tusks of endangered African elephants.
His wife Kanitha and close aide Wandee Sompoom are also charged in this case. Police seized the tusks along with 43 guns during an investigation launched after Premchai was arrested for allegedly poaching wildlife in the Kanchanaburi sanctuary.