02/19/2019, 17.43
THAILAND
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Some 19 Buddhist monks arrested, hiding from their criminal past

Thai police have pledged to make 2019 the year in which temples will be cleaned up. The abbot at Wat Ro Charoen was on the run for 15 years in connection with attempted murder and illegal weapons possession. Donations to Buddhist entities total US$ 3.6 billion a year. Government and religious leaders have adopted measures to save the image of the country’s dominant religion.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Royal Thai police have added the abbot of a temple in Suphan Buri (capital of the homonymous province in central Thailand) to a list of criminal suspects arrested on 14 February in the latest operation to clean up the country’s Buddhist institutions.

This follows by a day the announcement by the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) of the arrest of 18 Buddhist monks accused in connection with various crimes, including murder and sexual harassment.

CSD chief General Chiraphop Phuridet vowed to make 2019 a year of "sweeping temples clean" as his agents unmask criminals wearing saffron robes to hide their misdeeds.

Thanks to the evidence garnered following several arrests, investigators are identifying suspects and tracking down where they were ordained. "I want to purify religion so that people can trust monks again," General Chiraphop said.

The case of Suphan Buri, the 19th name on the list, came to light when the police discovered that Phra Sangkharak Kanatathamo (pictured), abbot at Wat Ro Charoen (Bang Pla Ma District), was a fugitive from justice for 15 years, charged with attempted murder and illegal weapons possession.

According to the CSD, the 40-year-old man’s real name is Paphonsan Phetphun, who allegedly killed a rival in Tha Sala district (Nakhon Si Thammarat province) in 2006. The following year, the gangster shot someone else in Koh Samui District (Surat Thani), and eventually turned to the monastic life to escape the arrest warrants issued by two provincial courts.

For General Chiraphop, such situations pose a danger because suspects often continue to break the law. "They take advantage of people's faith to commit more offences. If no immediate action is taken, not only will Buddhism be ruined, but these monks will raise concerns about the security of believers.”

Almost 95 per cent of Thailand’s population follows Theravada Buddhism. In recent months, the image of Buddhism has taken a hit as a result of many sexual and financial scandals involving monks.

Donations to temples are far higher than the budget allocated by the state and amount to about US$ 3.6 billion a year. All this gives the country’s military authorities a good reason to want to clean up the monastic community. Since May 2018, an unprecedented crackdown has involved high-profile figures.

Under the increasing pressure of the ruling military council and religious leaders, the country's various Buddhist orders have begun cleaning up their temples and reform corrupt communities. In September 2017, senior monks issued orders to impose harsher discipline on more than 300,000 monks and some 40,000 places of worship. Some of the latest measures include rules governing monks’ eating habits.

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