BANGKOK – The president of Italian-Thai Development Pcl, Thailand’s largest construction company, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to trespassing in a wildlife sanctuary and poaching, a lawyer said.
Premchai Karnasuta and three company employees were arrested in February for allegedly poaching protected animals in the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary in the western province of Kanchanaburi.
Several carcasses of protected animals including a black Indochinese leopard were found near their jungle campsite, national park rangers had said.
Prosecutors charged Premchai in April with hunting protected wildlife without permission, illegal possession of protected wildlife carcasses, concealing wildlife carcasses, collecting wildlife items from a national park without permission, colluding to hunt wildlife without permission and carrying firearms without permits.
Premchai and the three employees could face jail and hefty fines if found guilty.
Prosecutor Somjet Amnuaysawad said Premchai reported to a court in Kanchanaburi.
“Premchai has denied all the charges,” Somjet said, adding that the court has scheduled May 21 for both sides to review the list of witnesses.
The court has increased bail for Premchai to 400,000 baht ($12,610). He and the three other suspects are prohibited from leaving the country without the court’s permission.
The case has generated a lot of attention in Thailand and has been the subject of dark comedy jokes and public demonstrations in Bangkok with demonstrators demanding justice.
There have also been calls for Premchai to step down.
Premchai has rarely commented on the case except to say that he is innocent.
Critics say Thailand’s judicial system often favors the rich and famous and that those who are well connected often get away with crimes.
Underage driver Orachorn Thephasadin na Ayudhya was given a suspended two-year prison sentence in 2012 for causing the deaths of nine people when the car she was driving collided with a passenger van.
That case caused outrage among Thais on social media over how a girl with an aristocratic family surname managed to escape jail.