A Thai forestry official has won a prestigious award from international organisations for his role in the “black leopard” poaching case.
Wichien Chinnawong, who is famous in Thailand for arresting well-known billionaire Premchai Karnasuta for alleged poaching at a wildlife sanctuary early this year, has received a special commendation from the United Nations, USAID, Interpol, and the Freeland Foundation.
The organisations have honoured nine institutions and individuals across Asia this week for outstanding work in preventing transboundary environmental crime at an annual award ceremony in Bangkok.
The recipients of the honour came from Thailand, China, India, South Korea, Malaysia, Nepal and Vietnam.
Wichien is the only Thai individual to be honoured.
“While the trial will determine the exact responsibilities of the alleged poachers, the determination and the integrity of Wichien and his team remain indisputable facts,” the award granter said earlier this week.
In February 2018, Wichien and his team found Premchai’s group in an unauthorised zone of Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary. Further checks found that there were weapons and animal carcasses, including that of a black leopard, near the group's camp.
The case made headlines because Premchai ranks among the richest men in Thailand and controls one of the country’s biggest construction firms.
Wichien’s team did not show any sign of intimidation when they found out who Premchai was. Instead, the team carried out their duties as enforcers of the law.
Premchai is facing several charges related to the case.
Environmental crimes – which include illegal trade in wildlife, illicit trade in forests and forestry products, illegal dumping of waste including chemicals, smuggling of ozone depleting substances and illegal mining – are estimated to cost up to $258 billion (Bt8.5 trillion) per year. It is the fourth largest illegal crime after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
The other winner from Thailand is a team from the Customs Department that adopted innovative risk profiling techniques to identify wildlife smugglers travelling to Thailand and Southeast Asia.