By The Bangkok Post
The Criminal Court on Tuesday acquitted construction tycoon Premchai Karnasuta, his wife and a female associate of illegal possession of two pairs of African elephant tusks.
Public prosecutors named Premchai’s wife Khanitta, 65, Mr Premchai, 65, and Wandee Somphum, 71, as the first, second and third defendants in the case. They charged them with unauthorised possession of carcasses of protected wildlife, smuggling and concealment of the smuggled objects.
During the police interrogation, the three denied all charges. Mrs Khanitta insisted the tusks were a family inheritance. She and Ms Wandee reported the possession to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation on April 15, 2015.
Mrs Khanitta said the tusks came from domesticated elephants and Ms Wandee signed a contract for assertion to that effect.
The charged followed authorities’ search of Mr Premchai’s house on Soi Sun Wichai 3 in Huai Khwang district, Bangkok, on Feb 7 last year, where they discovered the tusks along with 43 guns and ammunition.
The three defendants, who were released on bail during the trial, showed up at the court to hear the judgement.
Mr Premchai remained calm and expressionless as he entered the courtroom using a walking stick.
The court found the first defendant, Mrs Khanitta, had no intention to conceal the tusks as charged. Mr Premchai was named as the second defendant because his name was registered as the owner of the house, and Ms Wandee as the third defendant because she signed the registration papers attesting to Mrs Khanitta’s possession of the tusks by a family inheritance.
The court found the first defendant not quilty of the charges. The court therefore ruled to acquit all three defendants. It also dismissed a request for the confiscation of the elephant tusks.
The search of the house followed the arrest of Mr Premchai and three others on the night of Feb 4, 2018, on charges of hunting animals in Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary, a Unesco World Heritage site, in Kanchanaburi province. They were found in possession of the carcasses of protected animals, including a rare black leopard and its pelt.
Numerous charges were brought against Mr Premchai, president of Italian-Thai Development Plc, relating to wildlife poaching and the possession of firearms and the tusks.
On Feb 19 this year, the Thong Pha Phum Court sentenced Mr Premchai to 16 months in jail for illegal possession of a dead pheasant and weapons, and supporting poaching. He was released on conditional bail with surety of 400,000 baht pending appeal.