BANGKOK — A ranger and his coworkers have told police that the powerful construction magnate they arrested on suspicion of poaching a rare black panther tried to bribe them, a police official said.
Deputy police commissioner Srivara Ransibrahmanakul on Friday morning shared the allegation by Wichien Chinnawong, the ranger widely hailed for making the arrest. Gen. Srivara added that Wichien and other rangers may be disciplined for waiving entry fees for Premchai Karnasuta’s hunting party after they claimed to be conducting research.
The deputy police chief said Wichien, whose fans worry could become a target for discrediting or worse, waived the entry fee into the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary for the group, who claimed they were on a scientific research trip.
“Wichien said that his higher-ups instructed him to allow Premchai and his party in. … Nevertheless, this issue is up to the Department of National Parks,” Srivara said. “Wichien is also insisting that Premchai attempted to bribe him and his officers.”
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The fee Premchai, one of Thailand’s wealthiest men, wanted waived amounted to 110 baht: 20-baht for each of the four men and a 30-baht vehicle charge.
National park fees can only be waived for researchers if documents are filed in advance. For allowing Premchai into the park without paying, Wichien may face disciplinary action, Srivara said.
Srivara said police would continue investigating parks officials.
Italian-Thai Development, one of the nation’s largest construction firms, has remained silent on Premchai’s status with the company. Officials have refused to answer questions about whether the firm stood by its president now that he faces criminal weapons- and poaching-related charges and has become a national pariah.
On Monday, Premchai and three other men were found trespassing in the wildlife sanctuary with carcasses of black leopards and pheasants. Premchai was arrested briefly before being freed on bail. Police said they do not know his present whereabouts. Further Investigation later found that the black panther’s tail had been cooked in a cookpot. Black panthers are actually a type of leopard.
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Calls have gone out for a boycott of Italian Thai’s many subsidiary ventures in hospitality, beverages and commercial properties.
The Italthai Group sent a notice to media organizations Thursday night demanding they cease mentioning the company’s name in stories due to what it characterized as a “misunderstanding that arose from confusion.”
“The management of the Italthai Group and its subsidiaries have nothing whatsoever to do with Italian-Thai Development, as everyone has misunderstood,” the statement said.
Italian Thai is the umbrella company of Italthai, which in its letter listed its own subsidiary companies.
“Italthai Group is managed by Yuthachai Charanachitta, CEO. Italthai Group consists of six subsidiaries. Italthai Industrial imports machinery, Italthai Engineering is an electricity and energy contractor, Onyx Hospitality Group manages hotels, resorts and spas, Italthai Hospitality imports tea, wine and fruit, the River City Shopping Complex and the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.”
The value of Italian-Thai Development Public Co. Ltd. (ITD) has dipped 5.2 percent on the Stock Exchange of Thailand since the news broke. Stocks have been down across the board this week, consistent with a global downturn.
“I am confident we can prosecute this case. There haven’t been higher-ups pressuring our police work,” Srivara said Thursday evening after interrogating park rangers.
Asked about a clip that surfaced during the investigation of a man in Premchai’s party offering to give park officials “whatever they needed” to let them go, one of the government’s top environmental enforcers, Chaiwat Limlikit-aksorn, offered a boilerplate reassurance:
“If bribery is found, we will investigate further.”
Premchai has been president of Italian-Thai Development since 1983. He is also the founder of P3 Global Energy and director and vice chairman of Charoong Thai Wire and Cable Public Co. Ltd. Premchai is the director of more than 55 other companies in Thailand and overseas, such as Siam Steel Syndicate Public Co. and Thai Nippon Steel.
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