Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary assistant chief Piyapong Seubsen took the stand on Thursday in the hearing against corporate chief Premchai Karnasuta and three associates in the “black panther” poaching case.
Italian-Thai Development president Premchai was not present as he had permission to do so while the other defendants Yong Dodkrua, Nathee Riamsaen, and Thanee Thummat were present. Premchai's lawyer Witoon Yimpray said Premchai was preoccupied with work and his health was not good, requiring him to regularly take medications.
Thung Yai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary chief Wichien Chinnawong told reporters that their supervisors have provided them encouragement including Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation director-general Thanya Netithamkul who made a phone call to boost the sanctuary officials' morale to fight the case.
The witness hearing for those from the prosecutors' side opened on Tuesday.
National deputy police commissioner Pol General Srivara Ransibrahmanakul was the first to testify followed by Wichien, as the person who led officials to make the arrest.
Prior to his appearance on court on Wednesday, Wichien thanked the United Nations, USAID, Interpol, and the Freeland Foundation for recently honoring him with a special commendation at the UNEP Annual Environmental Enforcement Awards for his role in the “black panther” poaching case.
He said the recognition gave him encouragement and thanked everybody who saw the importance of conservation work.
"This award is regarded as the award bestowed to all Thung Yai people, not just me, because officials devote our lives to protect the Thung Yai Naresuan forest the best we can," Wichien said.
He added that he would continue to perform his duties with courage and determination.
In February 2018, Wichien and his team found Premchai and three associates in an unauthorised zone of the wildlife sanctuary. Further checks found that there were weapons and animal carcasses, including a black panther, a Kalij pheasant, and a barking deer, near the group's camp.
The four defendants face six charges: carrying firearms in public without permission; hunting wildlife inside a sanctuary without permission; killing protected wildlife without permission; possessing a protected wild animal’s carcass without permission; hiding or receiving an illegally hunted wild animal’s carcass; and harvesting products from a protected forest without permission.
The hearing is scheduled for 10 sessions, with 32 witness testimonies from the prosecutors’ side from Tuesday until Friday, from December 6-7, December 11-13 and on December 18. These will be followed by 17 witness testimonies from the defendants’ side, who are scheduled to take the stand over six sessions from December 19-21 and from December 25-27.