By PIYAPORN WONGRUANG
THE NATION WEEKEND
AFTER CAREFULLY studying the Thong Pha Phum Provincial Court’s verdict, prosecutors working on the “black leopard case” have decided to appeal rulings against the defendants, including construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta, chief prosecutor Somchet Amnuaysawasdi told the Nation Weekend recently.
Following public uproar over the March 19 verdict, which saw the powerful and well-connected boss of the Italian-Thai Development Co effectively elude penalties on charges of joint hunting, possessing and collecting wildlife, the prosecutors decided to go ahead with filing an appeal on all verdicts against Premchai and his three companions, Somchet said.
The prosecution team forwarded its resolution and opinions to the Department of Appellate Litigation before the Songkran holidays, and expects the department to review and forward it to the Office of the Attorney-General for final consideration, he said.
“It should not take too long, and if the deadline is missed, then the prosecutors can seek a 30-day extension [for bringing the appeal to court],” said Somchet, who is also secretary to the vice Attorney-General.
On April 30 last year, the Attorney-General affirmed the Public Prosecution Office Region 7’s decision to indict Premchai on six charges, with the severest carrying a penalty of 10 years in jail.
However, the court only found Premchai guilty of carrying weapons in public without permission, “supporting” game hunting (which carries only two-thirds of the penalty of jointly hunting), and jointly possessing a kalij pheasant. Premchai escaped any penalty for the killing of an endangered black leopard whose carcass was found in his camp. As a result he was handed just 16 months in prison.
“I don’t know why the court ruled this way. It listened to our testimony and also that of the defendants,” Somchet said at a recent talk on the lessons learned in the black leopard case, held by the conservationist Seub Nakhasathien Foundation and the Thai Environmental Journalists Club.
According to Somchet and also the 39-page court verdict seen by the Nation Weekend, Premchai and his companions had travelled to Thung Yai Naresuan West Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi province on the afternoon of February 3, 2018.
They called in on Thung Yai’s chief, Wichian Chinwong, who suggested they camp in the Maharat forest protection unit, about 30 kilometres from his office at Ti Nuay.
The four then travelled on, before deciding to camp in a non-permitted zone near Huay Prachi. Rangers found them camping in the restricted area the following morning. Reports of “suspicious activities” led to a search of the camp and the arrest of the four suspects.
According to Somchet, Premchai claimed in court that he had left the camp for the Sesawo grasslands, above the Maharat unit, on his own and only returned at around 4pm, when Wichian’s assistant arrived to search the camp.
However, this contradicts the testimony delivered by Wichian’s rangers, who said they saw Premchai at the camp from late morning to early afternoon on February 4.
Due to these contradicting testimonies, Somchet ordered additional investigation. He personally checked the route from Ti Nuay to Maharat and found there was only one narrow, potholed path leading to the point where Premchai had camped. Also, there were checkpoints with rangers stationed in Ti Nuay, Ti Khong, Maharat, Dong Vi to Sesawo and onwards. Visitors on the route had to sign their names and get permission to pass through.
However, none of the rangers stationed on the route saw Premchai passing since February 3, which led prosecutors to question whether the tycoon had travelled to Sesawo as claimed.
The prosecutors said they also have critical evidence discovered 750 metres from Premchai’s camp. Wichian and his assistant found internal organs of wildlife hidden in a dry stretch of the Huay Prachi stream, along with a shotgun shell from one of the three guns seized at Premchai’s camp.
But the most critical evidence was the human faeces found three metres from the shotgun shell, which led the prosecutors to suspect that this was the spot where the black leopard was shot and skinned.
However, none of these details was referred to in the court verdict. Instead the court accepted the story that Premchai had nothing to do with the hunting of the black leopard or possession of its carcass. The court also accepted Premchai’s defence that he was in the Sesawo grasslands, and decided that the black leopard had been killed solely by one of his companions – Thani Thummas.
The court allowed that there were no witnesses to confirm whether anybody had joined Thani on the hunt, nor was any evidence presented to show that Premchai had anything to do with the hunt or any illegal activities later.
Hence, the court ruled Premchai had nothing to do with the hunting of the black leopard, apart from providing “support”, as the guns used belonged to him.
“However, we believe he [Premchai] had a hand in the crime, because the guns belonged to him and he and his group together carried them to Thung Yai, where the black leopard was found slain and parts of it, including the tail, discovered in a cauldron.
“All this evidence was presented to court, but fine, we respect the court’s verdict. However, we will still defend our different views in the case,” Somchet said.
Sasin Chalermplarp, chairman of the Seub Nakhasathien Foundation, was more forthright, saying Premchai had cleverly directed the court to believe he was nowhere near the site of the crime and had shifted the blame to Thani.
Thani was found with two bullets in his pocket that were similar to the shell found at the scene. He was also reportedly shooting at squirrels, which to the court suggested a pattern of hunting alone.
However, unlike other defendants, Thani was not in court to defend himself, which Sasin said was another trick to avoid any links to his boss.
“Is it possible to elude punishment with such a simple trick like this? If they can elude punishment again at the appeal stage, then I think it is a lesson that our justice system should take seriously.
“It seems that their intention was never taken into account, and that the court only focused on the evidence presented to it. Premchai had taken the guns and his hunter with him. He did not follow the rangers’ instructions to move the camp, and they did not leave when the black leopard’s tail was found in the soup pot.
"There are lots of questions raised by this case, and these have stuck in people’s minds ever since the verdict was delivered. Society wants answers, and the truth must be uncovered at the appeals stage,” Sasin said.