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Thai tycoon in poaching scandal convicted on firearms charge

August 20, 2019
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In this Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019, photo, Thai business tycoon president of Italian-Thai Development Premchai Karnasuta arrives at the Bangkok Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand. Premchai was sentenced by the court to six months in prison for illegal possession for illegal possession of a firearm, which follows convictions on other charges related to his arrest last year when he and several of his employees were found in a state wildlife sanctuary with guns and the carcasses of a black panther and other animals in an alleged case of poaching. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
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In this Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019, photo, Thai business tycoon president of Italian-Thai Development Premchai Karnasuta arrives at the Bangkok Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand. Premchai was sentenced by the court to six months in prison for illegal possession for illegal possession of a firearm, which follows convictions on other charges related to his arrest last year when he and several of his employees were found in a state wildlife sanctuary with guns and the carcasses of a black panther and other animals in an alleged case of poaching. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK (AP) — A court in Thailand on Tuesday sentenced a construction tycoon to six months in prison for illegal firearms possession in the latest case in a scandal that erupted when he was accused of poaching protected animals in a wildlife sanctuary.

The Bangkok Criminal Court halved the one-year sentence for Premchai Karnasuta because he pleaded guilty. It rejected his lawyer’s request that it commute the sentence to probation.

Premchai and several employees of his Italian-Thai Development company were found with guns and the carcasses of a black panther and other animals when they were caught hunting in western Thailand in February last year.

Premchai was already sentenced in March this year to 16 months’ imprisonment for possessing the carcass of an endangered Kajij pheasant and firearms in public areas. He also received a one-year sentence in June for attempting to bribe a park ranger. He remains free on bail on all the charges, paying bail of 200,000 baht ($6,490) in the latest case.

The arms that he was convicted of possessing illegally were found in a police raid on his Bangkok home after his arrest in the wildlife sanctuary in Kanchanaburi province.

Three other hunting companions were found guilty of possessing the panther carcass, but Premchai was acquitted of the charge.

The case fueled public skepticism that justice would be done in a country that has seen the privileged prevail in high-profile cases. Wildlife activists wore black panther masks as a symbol of protest on several occasions and environmentalists have pledged to keep up pressure.

Premchai has one case remaining in the courts, illegal possession of elephant tusks also found during the police raid on his Bangkok home. The verdict in that case is scheduled for Oct. 1.

Premchai’s lawyer asked the court to commute his client’s sentence, with Premchai pledging to enter the Buddhist monkhood for 15 days to earn merit for those he had wronged.

The lawyer also said Premchai would donate 3 million baht ($97,370) to be used for the public’s benefit and would not involve himself with firearms again for the rest of his life.

The court rejected the request because of his prior convictions.

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