Some 200 police commandos made coordinated raids on Buddhist temples on Thursday morning and arrested senior monks for alleged embezzlement, including members of the Sangha Supreme Council, and well-known political monk Buddha Isara for alleged robbery during the Bangkok Shutdown protests.
The elite forces from the Crime Suppression Division had search and arrest warrants for the 6am raids at Wat Sam Phraya, Wat Sa Ket and Wat Samphanthawong in Bangkok, Wat Onoi in Nakhon Pathom and Wat Kudeethong in Sing Buri.
At Wat Onoi in Kamphaeng Saen district, police arrested activist abbot Phra Buddha Isara, who gained front-page notoriety for his support of the Bangkok Shutdown movement in 2013-14. He was held on a charge of supporting robbery during the demonstrations led by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).
The police case against Phra Buddha Isara relates to a group of anti-Yingluck Shinawatra government demonstrators he led which in 2014 robbed Special Branch police of guns during their protest.
At Wat Sam Phraya in Phra Nakhon district, police arrested both the abbot, Phra Phrom Dilok, and his secretary, Phra Atthakit Sophon. They were charged with temple fund embezzlement.
Phra Phrom Dilok is also a member of the Sangha Supreme Council and the ecclesiastical governor of Bangkok. Phra Atthakit is secretary to the ecclesiastical governor of Bangkok.
Phra Phrom Sitthi, abbot of Wat Sa Ket (Golden Mount) in Pomprap Sattruphai district, and Phra Phrom Methee, assistant abbot of Wat Samphanthawong in Sampanthawong district, were still being sought. They were wanted on charges of embezzlement of temple funds.
Phra Phrom Sitthi
Phra Phrom Sitthi and Phra Phrom Methee are also members of the Sangha Supreme Council. Phra Phrom Sitthi is also the 10th ecclesiastical region governor. Phra Phrom Methee is also the 4th-7th ecclesiastical region governor.
Phra Sri Khunaporn and Phra Wichit Thammaporn, assistant abbots of Wat Sa Ket, were arrested. Also apprehended there was Tawit Sangyu, a 42-year-old official of Wat Saket. They were charged with embezzling funds for a Buddhism school project and money laundering.
Temple staff said they last saw Phra Phrom Sitthi, Wat Sa Ket's abbot, about 4pm on Wednesday when he told them he would inspect construction work in the temple's compound.
Police were surprised to find a secret exit from the temple to Bamrung Muang Road, as detectives had not seen it before.
Phra Phrom Methee
Arrest warrants were issued for four monks at Wat Sa Ket - Phra Phrom Sitthi and assistant abbots Phra Sri Khunaporn, Phra Wichit Thammaporn, and Phra Khru Siriwihankansamanakit, who was later arrested at Samitivej Hospital in the Sukhumvit area.
Police suspect Wat Sa Ket of embezzling money from two Buddhism-related projects worth 69 million baht. Money was transferred to outside people. Police said the abbot had 10 bank accounts and about 130 million baht had passed through them. All funds in the accounts were frozen.
Police carried arrest warrants for seven monks at Wat Sam Phraya, Wat Sa Ket and Wat Samphanthawong in cases of alleged temple fund embezzlement and money laundering.
Pol Maj Gen Maitree Chimcherd, commander of the Crime Suppression Division, said most funds allocated to Wat Sa Ket, Wat Sam Phraya and Wat Samphanthawong were dishonestly transferred to outsiders.
The transfers involved four people facing arrest warrants for involvement in the production of PR material for Wat Sa Ket. Thamporn Niphonphitthaya, owner of the temple's contractor, DD Thaveekhoon Co, surrendered to police Thursday.
At Wat Kudeethong, Phra Khru Wilas Kijjanukul, deputy abbot, was arrested for allegedly stealing and selling three important ancient Buddha images from Wat Kudeethong and Wat Trachu in Sing Buri. Abbot Phra Khru Kraisorn Wilas was also arrested at Wat Trachu for the same case.
All the arrested senior monks were taken to the headquarters of the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok for questioning and legal procedures.
Police read their document to Phra Buddha Isara at Wat Onoi in Nakhon Pathom province early Thursday morning. (Police photo)
Phra Khru Wilas Kijjanukul is arrested at Wat Kudeethong in Sing Buri Thursday. (Police photo)