Kanchana Nittaya, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Office, yesterday (Feb 9) identified Noppadon Prueksawan as the man who sought clearance for Premchai and three others to enter the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary. They were caught there last Sunday night (Feb 4) with butchered parts of endangered animals and now face several charges.
Mr Noppadon is a former senior official of the Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. After retirement from public service, he worked as an adviser on the environment for ITD at its Dawei deep-sea port project in Myanmar.
“Khun Noppadon called me at 3pm on Jan 31 and said Khun Premchai and his party, four altogether, had asked for permission to study nature (inside the sanctuary) for two nights starting from Saturday (Feb 3),” Ms Kanchana said yesterday.
She said she advised him to contact the Protected Areas Region 3 Office based in Ban Pong district of Kanchanaburi as it oversees the western forest areas including Thungyai Naresuan.
“I told him to contact the office in Ban Pong,” she said, adding that her office talked on the phone with Mr Noppadon two more times and gave him the contact number of the regional office.
Asked why Mr Noppadon had contacted her office, Ms Kanchana said he might have misunderstood that the Wildlife Conservation Office was still in charge of the area.
It used to be responsible for Thungyai Naresuan and other parks but a restructuring resulted in the mandate being given to the regional office in Ban Pong, she explained.
Thammarat Wongsopha, the acting director of the Protected Areas Region 3 Office, said on Wednesday (Feb 7) that his office did not allow Premchai and his team to camp out in Thungyai Naresuan because the document sent to the office last Friday (Feb 2) was not complete, according to Matichon online.
The Western Thungyai Naresuan front office overseen by Wichien Chinnawong eventually let them enter last Saturday.
A memo sent by Mr Wichien to the Protected Areas Region 3 Office in Bang Pong dated Feb 2 said he allowed them to enter the area to camp and “study nature” after he was contacted about the trip in a “phone call” from Ms Kanchana, Thai PBS reported.
The “study trip” requested by Mr Noppadon turned out to be an illegal hunting adventure for which park rangers arrested the group last Sunday night. Public outrage quickly followed as images of slaughtered animals emerged.
When the four were arrested, they apparently tried to bribe the rangers, led by Mr Wichien, to let them go. Part of an audio clip apparently recorded during the detention of the four and released by Thai PBS features the voice of a man saying that a “phu yai” – or high-ranking person – would come to “clear” the case.
Mr Noppadon’s last position in the civil service was as director of Protected Areas Region 6, based in Songkhla and responsible for five southernmost provinces.
“I don’t know him personally and never worked with him,” Ms Kanchana said of Mr Noppadon.
“I have no idea who Premchai is,” she added, referring to her first telephone conversation on Jan 31 with the retired official. At the time, he did not mention the last name of the top ITD executive.
She said she had no idea about the other side of the construction tycoon.
“Who would know Khun Premchai would be like that?” she said. “We work in the forests. We have no idea what’s in the mind of those ‘hi-so’ people,” she said, referring to the rich and famous in society.
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