The trial of a Thai billionaire construction tycoon charged with poaching an endangered black panther and other animals in a wildlife sanctuary began on Tuesday after months of delay.
Premchai Karnasuta, the president of Italian-Thai Development PLC, appeared at the provincial court in Kanchanaburi in western Thailand to hear witnesses in the case against him.
Premchai was arrested last February after park rangers found him with three of his employees surrounded by guns and animal carcasses, including that of an endangered black panther.
They had brazenly set up camp at the Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, a UNESCO world heritage site.
The skin of a black panther allegedly slain by Thai construction magnate Premchai Karnasuta
Premchai Karnasuta sits in his campsite with a scoped rifle laid down on a tarpaulin sheet in front of him
Park rangers measure the skin of an endangered black panther which was killed in the country’s Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary
Premchai Karnasuta has been the managing director of Italian-Thai Development PLC since the 1980s after studying in the United States for his MBA
According to the Bangkok Post the area has been ravaged by poachers for years.
The paper said that Premchai and three co-defendants Yong Dodkhruea, Thanee Thummat and Ms Nathee Riamsaen, face charges of illegal gun possession, hunting in a protected wildlife sanctuary, hunting without licenses, possessing animal carcasses without licenses and collecting materials from a protected forest without permission.
The general public are sceptical that justice will be done in a country that has seen the privileged prevail in high-profile cases.
Wildlife activists concerned about the case have worn masks of the slain big cat as a symbol of protest on several occasions and environmentalists have pledged to keep up pressure.
In February, Premchai appeared before police and was granted bail after he said that he did not kill the panther.
Italian-Thai Development sits down as his campsite is busted by a large force of park rangers deep in the protected forest
The entrails of some of the animals shot by the hunting party sits on top of a table as the park rangers gathered evidence against the tycoon
A court statement said Tuesday’s hearing was to hear testimony from three prosecution witnesses, including a deputy police chief and the park ranger who had discovered the hunting group.
The statement also said that the 64-year-old Premchai had requested that the trial be conducted in his absence, with his lawyer to represent him.
He argued that the court would allow this because the maximum penalty in the case would add up to less than 10 years imprisonment.