Police cast net wider in latest temple sweep

Police cast net wider in latest temple sweep

Top cop pledges to find criminal associates

Police escort arrested abbots and assistants shortly after they were arrested last week. The court on Monday denied bail to the now-defrocked ex-monks. (Post Today photo)
Police escort arrested abbots and assistants shortly after they were arrested last week. The court on Monday denied bail to the now-defrocked ex-monks. (Post Today photo)

A fresh probe into the temple fund embezzlement scandal is targeting those associated with monks and state officials apprehended during previous crackdowns, the Counter Corruption Division (CCD) chief said Monday.

CCD chief Pol Maj Gen Kamol Rienracha was referring to the fourth and latest round of the investigation into the scandal.

Under the latest crackdown, he said officials have been deployed to look into malfeasance linked to the allocation of grant-in-aid for temples provided by the National Office of Buddhism (NOB).

Grants for temple maintenance and development, Buddhism promotion as well as Buddhist education support will be examined.

"I have not set the time frame for the investigation yet. I want all involved to work to their full capacity first," said Pol Maj Gen Kamol. The fresh probe, he said, does not involve Wat Sa Ket, where police earlier apprehended three assistant abbots during a raid last Thursday.

Wat Sa Ket abbot Phra Phrom Sitthi, wanted on an arrest warrant, could not be found during the operation.

Wat Sa Ket was one of three temples raided by police that day. Five senior monks were apprehended during the operation.

Prime Minister's Office minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said he was informed by the NOB that 15 of its officials were implicated in the embezzlement. Four have already been dismissed.

The third round of the investigation involved 10 temples in Bangkok accused of pocketing at least 70 million baht of state funds intended for the teaching of Buddhism.

National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) secretary-general Worawit Sookboon said the agency will meet to discuss the probe on Wednesday, after the Visaka Bucha holiday.

Last Thursday, a separate team of police raided Wat Or Noi in Nakhon Pathom's Kamphaeng Saen district where they arrested its abbot, Suwit Thongprasert, the former Phra Buddha Isara. He was accused of committing robbery, running an illegal secret society and using royal initials without permission.

Criticism flared over the alleged use of excessive force by police in the arrest. Mr Suwit, was later defrocked and has been detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison.

The former monk admitted to the allegations in the case of amulet casting, according to his follower, Mahaschak Sodi, who visited him at the prison on Monday. The former abbot's lawyers would talk with him this week, he said.

Another follower, Phrachan Santi-asoke, said Mr Suwit had appealed to his disciples not to hold a grudge against the officers who arrested him.

"We can't clean up the mess in the Buddhist order ourselves. But the NCPO can. We have to give them encouragement," Mr Phrachan said.

Meanwhile, national police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda called an urgent meeting with commanders of key police units across the country.

A police source said Pol Gen Chakthip ordered the officers to track down Phra Phrom Sitthi and Phra Phrom Methi, assistant abbot of Wat Samphantawong, both allegedly linked with the scandal.

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