Forensic officers examine some of the evidence seized from the campsite where tycoon Premchai Karnasuta was arrested. (Photo by Piyarach Chongcharoen)

Police plan to call construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta and his three co-accused for questioning next week about illegal hunting in the World Heritage Thungyai Naresuan sanctuary in Kanchanaburi.

Investigators have already questioned national park officials and are now compiling evidence against the accused poachers, said Pol Col Poonsak Prasert, deputy chief of Kanchanaburi police and head of the team handling the case.

They are in the process of making an appointment for Mr Premchai, the president of SET-listed Italian-Thai Development Plc (ITD) and those who were arrested with him. Investigators expect to coordinate with Mr Premchai’s legal team about the time and place for the questioning.

Pol Col Poonsak said investigators hoped to conclude the evidence-gathering quickly so that they can forward the case to public prosecutors.

Forensic officers are now checking the carcasses of the animals to determine which type of firearms were used to kill them. DNA samples, gunpowder residue and fingerprints have also been collected from the campsite and from the four suspects.

Pol Col Poonsak said he was not discouraged about having to handle a high-profile case against someone from one of the country’s wealthiest and most connected business families. He said his team would strictly adhere to the law and the evidence.

Mr Premchai and his sister, Nijaporn Charanachitta, were jointly ranked by Forbes magazine as the 35th richest people in Thailand in 2016, with a net worth of US$630 million. They fell out of the Top 50 last year as ITD shares declined by 35%, mainly because of delays in state infrastructure spending. The family have long been involved with the famed Mandarin Oriental Hotel and Ms Nijaporn holds a 23.2% stake in SET-listed OHTL Plc, which runs the property.

The public has been outraged by reports and pictures of what allegedly took place in the wildlife sanctuary since news of the arrests broke. Arrested on Sunday night with Mr Premchai, 63, were his driver Yong Dodkhruea, 65; Thanee Thummat, 56; and Nathee Riamsaen, 43, the businessman’s chef.

Park rangers found carcasses of protected wild animals, including a 1.48-metre black panther, a Kalij pheasant and a barking deer, as well as three long-barrelled weapons and ammunition in their possession.

The four are facing nine charges — unauthorised hunting in a wildlife sanctuary, unauthorised hunting of protected wildlife, unauthorised possession of protected wildlife carcasses, unlawful poaching in a wildlife sanctuary, conspiring to hide wildlife carcasses, illegally bringing hunting equipment to a wildlife sanctuary, unauthorised entry to the sanctuary, collecting forest items in a reserved forest, and illegal possession of firearms. 

They have been granted bail with a bond of 150,000 baht each. They have denied all charges.

Thungyai wildlife sanctuary chief Wichian Chinnawong, who led the arrests, has also filed a bribery charge, backed by an audio recording said to have been made at the scene. In it, the officer is offered a bribe in the form of survival kit items, and told that phu yai (high-ranking people) would be along soon to clear up the case.

Forensic officers measure the carcass of a protected animal found at the campsite where Mr Premchai’s party was discovered. (Photo by Piyarach Chongcharoen)

News Reporter

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