Ayutthaya temple explains actions

Ayutthaya temple explains actions

A legal adviser for Wat Phananchoeng in Ayutthaya yesterday clarified the temple's actions after it was named as one of 12 temples being investigated for embezzlement in maintenance funds worth 60 million baht dispensed by the National Office of Buddhism (NOB).

Somsak Toraksa, the temple's legal adviser, said the temple abbot, Phra Thammarattanamongkol, was unknowingly used by a senior NOB official to siphon the money and had done nothing wrong.

The abbot believed the NOB official was giving away money to other temples in need of financial help, said Mr Somsak.

The NOB official named by the legal adviser is being suspended from duties in the wake of the scandal.

According to Mr Somsak, the temple was offered funds twice by the official in question, totalling 20 million baht to fund maintenance projects at the temple.

The official, who served as a division head at that time, called the abbot in late 2013 to inform that the NOB would provide 10 million baht in financial aid to the temple.

The fund was drawn from the 2014 fiscal budget.

However, the NOB official asked the temple to retain only 2 million baht and donate the remaining 8 million to other "poor" temples, Mr Somsak said.

The abbot agreed and transferred the money to an account held by Chompunut Chanluechai as directed, who the abbot did not know.

In late 2014, the same official contacted the temple and offered another 10 million baht in financial aid.

In this instance 5 million baht in cash was handed over in Nakhon Pathom and the rest went to fund other temples "as before".

According to Mr Somsak, the NOB official assured the abbot the funds were disbursed lawfully so the abbot agreed to do as requested.

The temple was not aware of its involvement in the embezzlement scheme until the police's Counter Corruption Division (CCD) paid a visit early this year and asked about the maintenance funds granted by the NOB.

The temple gave statements and related evidence to the CCD.

When the scandal surfaced, the temple lodged a fraud complaint against the official and submitted a petition to the government, he said, adding the temple would provide full cooperation in the probe.

The CCD said yesterday they are prepared to expand the embezzlement investigation to cover other types of funds granted to the temples by the NOB.

CCD division chief Pol Maj Gen Kamol Rianracha said the embezzlement has been detected in other types of subsidies, including promotion of Buddhism and arrangements for monks' education.

In the 2016 fiscal year alone the subsidy for these two projects from the state amounted to 4.6 billion baht, which underlined the need for transparency.

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