Thailand’s supreme court has sentenced construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta to two and a half years in prison without probation on charges related to the poaching of protected animals, a prosecutor told Reuters news agency.
Premchai, president of Thai construction company Italian-Thai Development, was found guilty on Wednesday of possessing a firearm without a permit, enabling poaching and possessing the carcass of a protected animal, said prosecutor Phanomrit Homnitsakul.
Premchai’s accomplices were also sentenced to 33 and 37 months in jail.
In 2019, a provincial court originally found Premchai guilty of poaching charges and sentenced him to 16 months in prison.
The lower court originally ordered Premchai and a huntsman, Thani Thummas, to pay a fine of 2 million baht ($63,200).
Premchai previously denied the charges, but later said that he was sorry for the offence.
In 2018, wildlife officials found Premchai and three others in the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary with carcasses of protected animals including a black Indochinese leopard, pheasants and a deer near their jungle campsite in a national park in Kanchanaburi province.
After one of Thailand's richest people was caught red handed killing a black leopard and other protected wildlife by the hero in the green uniform on these pictures, a Thai Parliamentary Committee visited the site where the crime took place. I had the honor to be part of this 1/2 pic.twitter.com/JMIxKHM7PE
— Edwin Wiek (him/it) (@EdwinWiek) December 8, 2021
Forbes magazine once named Premchai as one of Thailand’s 50 richest people.
His company ITD is also one of Thailand’s largest construction firms and is based in the capital, Bangkok.
Thais have closely followed the case of Premchai as high-profile individuals are rarely convicted on poaching charges.
In a social media post, Edwin Wiek, founder of Thailand’s Wildlife Friends Foundation, said that when the case was first taken up by the court, activists and wildlife advocates “were convinced he would never see jail time as rich people never go to jail”.
“But today (on my birthday), we heard the great news that the Supreme Court of Thailand ruled that he will serve 2 1/2 years behind bars. Kharma.”
Ahead of the court’s decision, Erich Parpart, business editor of the Thai Enquirer, also wrote, “You know your game is almost over when the premier of a military government personally comments on your case.”
Earlier, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army chief led the 2014 coup, had said that the black panther case against Premchai should teach people how to avoid such offences.
“If the court summons you, you should go,” Prayuth told reporters on Tuesday.