Some members of the Sangha Supreme Council are led out in handcuffs. Police raid five major temples. Investigators note that large funds were illegally transferred to outsiders. The abbot of Wat Sa Ket had 10 bank accounts, through which he funnelled 130 million baht or US$ 4 million.
Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – About 200 police commandos carried out coordinated raids in various Buddhist temples, arresting senior monks for alleged embezzlement of state funds.
Those arrested include members of the Sangha Supreme Council, which governs Buddhist monks and plays a role similar to that of the College of Cardinals in the Catholic Church.
Armed with arrest and search warrants, police at 6 this morning swept into five religious complexes: the temples of Wat Sam Phraya, Wat Sa Ket and Wat Samphanthawong in Bangkok; Wat Onoi in Nakhon Pathom, 55 km west of the city; and Wat Kudeethong in Sing Buri, 126 kilometres north of the capital.
In the temple of Wat Onoi, police arrested activist Abbot Phra Buddha Isara, known for his support for Bangkok Shutdown, a protest movement against the Yingluck Shinawatra government, in 2013-14.
He was held on a charge of supporting robbery during the demonstrations led by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).
At Wat Sam Phraya, the authorities ordered the arrest of the abbot, Phra Phrom Dilok, and his secretary, Phra Atthakit Sophon.
The two are accused of embezzling temple funds. Phra Phrom Dilok is also a member of the Sangha and ecclesiastical governor of Bangkok.
Two other members of the Council face the same accusation: Phra Phrom Sitthi, abbot at Wat Sa Ket and Phra Phrom Methee, assistant abbot at Wat Samphanthawong. Both remain at large.
Phra Sri Khunaporn and Phra Wichit Thammaporn, assistant abbots of Wat Sa Ket, have also ended in handcuffs. Together with Tawit Sangyu, a temple official, they are accused of embezzling funds from a Buddhist school and money laundering.
Investigators suspect that Wat Sa Ket stole money from two Buddhism-related projects worth 69 million baht (US$ 2.150,000), transferred to third parties.
Police report that the abbot had 10 bank accounts, through which he funnelled 130 million baht (US$ 4 million). All accounts are now frozen.
Police also issued arrest warrants for seven other monks at Wat Sam Phraya, Wat Sa Ket and Wat Samphanthawong, again on allegations of embezzlement and money laundering.
General Maitree Chimcherd, commander of the Crime Suppression Division, said that most of the funds allocated to Wat Sa Ket, Wat Sam Phraya and Wat Samphanthawong were illegally transferred to outsiders.
In Wat Kudeethong temple, police arrested deputy abbot Phra Khru Wilas Kijjanukul for allegedly stealing and selling three important ancient images of the Buddha, taken from two temples in Sing Buri.
All arrested senior monks were taken to the headquarters of the Crime Suppression Division in the Thai capital for questioning and legal procedures.
In recent years, the image of Thailand’s dominant religion (90 per cent of the population) has suffered from a string of sexual and financial scandals involving monks.
Under growing pressure from the military government and religious leaders, the country's Buddhist monks have begun a new cycle of reforms to clean up their temples and corrupt communities.
Since September of last year, senior monks have issued orders to impose harsher discipline on the country’s 300,000 monks in its 40,000 temples.