The Criminal Court on Wednesday accepted a case against Deputy Prime Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi which accuses him of illegally approving the shipment of 100 Bengal tigers to China in 2002.
Mr Plodprasop was chief of the Royal Forest Department at the time. The court set April 22 next year for the first hearing.
Mr Plodprasop is facing a malfeasance charge brought by prosecutors on behalf of the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC).
Prosecutors say he approved the request to send the tigers abroad without considering whether such a move would violate the law.
In 2002 Manop Lauprasert _ head of the Thailand Office of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites Thailand) _ was asked by Si Racha Tiger Zoo company for a licence to send its tigers to Sunya Zoo in China’s southern province of Hainan for feeding and breeding during October and December that year.
Mr Manop forwarded the request to Mr Plodprasop, who approved it. However, prosecutors say the request “was made for commercial purposes”, and so was not in line with the law.
The Thai Wildlife Protection Act only allows for exports of protected wildlife species under government agreements for research and conservation purposes.
The NACC found in 2007 that the shipment of the 100 tigers was for commercial purposes as Si Racha Tiger Zoo and Sunya Zoo are private entities.
As a result, the NACC found Mr Plodprasop guilty of malfeasance, while Mr Manop was also implicated in wrongdoing.
Mr Plodprasop has insisted he did nothing wrong. In his earlier response to the NACC’s resolution, he said the tigers were not from the wild and not native to Thailand, and that Si Racha Tiger Zoo had imported the tigers and raised and bred them for 10 years before delivering them to China. The Chinese embassy suggested importing the tigers in 2001.
Asked to respond yesterday, Mr Plodprasop said: “I am glad this moment has come because I will prove my innocence before the court.”
He was released on 200,000 baht bail.