Opinion: Guns, a billionaire, and a dead black panther – The Final Chapter

You know your game is almost over when the premier of a military government personally comments on your case. Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha said the black panther case against construction billionaire-tycoon Premchai Karnasuta is a parable that should teach people how to avoid such crimes.

The Supreme Court will rule today if Premchai and his accomplices will face proper justice. If nothing goes wrong, he would have to face three years and two months in jail.

“If the court summons you, you should go,” Prayut told reporters on Tuesday. There should be no question in regards to what the prime minister would do if he did not go to court. I am not a black panther.” 

“If a person does not show up to a court summons, the individual will receive an arrest warrant and there is nothing more to it. All of the names [of those banned from leaving] have been sent to borders and checkpoints and the authorities will make the arrest like any other cases,” he said.

The 66-year-old president of Italian-Thai Development along with three accomplices was arrested in the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary in February 2018.

Premchai was caught red-handed in a no-camping area in Huai Pachee forest with firearms scattered throughout his camping grounds. But park rangers also found the carcasses of a pheasant, a deer, and the shocking discovery of a dead black leopard. 

What followed was one of the biggest poaching cases in Thailand’s history. The case highlighted the extensive gap between the rich and poor in this Kingdom – underlining in bold how deep the inequality goes. 

But to no surprise, this billionaire almost got away with minor offenses. At first he was handed a slap on the wrist sentence of only one year and four months in jail, served by the Thong Pha Phum Court before the Appeal Court increased it in March 2019.

Ultimately Premchai was found guilty of poaching, illegal possession of wildlife carcasses, and carrying firearms into a national park.

With money to spare, all four poaching suspects were granted bail. Only three of the men took the case to the Supreme Court which will rule this afternoon the final sentence.

Premchai is now fitted with an EM ankle bracelet and has been instructed by the court not to leave the country. So if he does not show up today, the police will have a lot of explaining to do.

The final chapter of Thailand’s ‘Black Panther’ case now rests with the Supreme Court’s ruling. We can certainly expect an uproar from the public if the court refrains from carrying out a full sentence. 

But that remains to be seen. There’s certainly still doubt in many people’s minds on how this is going to end, because this is Thailand after all, and money doesn’t just talk, it has the power to set the rich and powerful free. Look at the Red Bull case. 

One thing for sure is that a billionaire should not be able to walk into a protected forest, kill an endangered species, and then just walk away with less than a year and a half in jail.

Feature photo by Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation


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