Thailand to indict construction tycoon for wildlife poaching

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Prosecutors said on Wednesday they are seeking to indict the president of Thailand’s largest construction company for poaching wildlife, a case that has raised concern about impunity for the rich and powerful.

Premchai Karnasuta, president of Italian-Thai Development Pcl, and three others were arrested in the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary in Kanchanaburi province in early February.

Several carcasses of protected animals including a black Indochinese leopard were found near their jungle campsite.

Premchai originally faced 11 charges filed by police in February.

But public prosecutors said on Wednesday they had dropped some and he now faced six including hunting protected species, hunting in a sanctuary, possessing carcasses of protected animals and hiding illegally obtained carcasses, they said.

Premchai and the three accomplices could face jail and hefty fines if found guilty.

Premchai was not available for comment.

He has said little in public about the case but told reporters soon after his arrest that he had been on holiday in the sanctuary. He later said he believed he was innocent.

His lawyer, Withoon Yamprai, declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

“I have not received all of the information,” Withoon said.

The case has attracted extensive media coverage and suspicion among environmental activists that Premchai would not be properly investigated because of his status and wealth.

Democracy activists have posted images of a black leopard on social media, and it has even been daubed on walls, to draw attention to what they see as unfair privilege in society.

Thailand has a poor record in protecting its forests and wildlife from illegal exploitation, environmentalists say.

Prosecutors said their indictment request had been forwarded to police and it would proceed to a provincial court if there were no objections.

The attorney-general will make a final decision on the case if police object.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Robert Birsel