Former top monk 'on the run' in Laos

Former top monk 'on the run' in Laos

Police seek extradition over temple funds saga

Phra Phrom Methee, then assistant abbot of Wat Samphanthawong, attends a ceremony at his temple in Bangkok in 2016. (File photo by Samarn Sudto)
Phra Phrom Methee, then assistant abbot of Wat Samphanthawong, attends a ceremony at his temple in Bangkok in 2016. (File photo by Samarn Sudto)

Police are seeking the extradition of former Sangha Supreme Council (SSC) member Phra Phrom Methee who reportedly fled to Laos after avoiding arrest over the temple funds embezzlement scandal.

The former senior monk, 77, who was also governor of the 4th-7th ecclesiastical regions, is wanted under an arrest warrant for alleged involvement in embezzlement, malfeasance and money laundering.

National police chief Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda led investigators from the Crime Suppression Division, the Metropolitan Police Bureau and the Immigration Bureau to the northeastern province of Nakhon Phanom yesterday after learning that Phra Phrom Methee, assistant abbot of Wat Samphanthawong in Bangkok, had crossed the border there to Laos.

A police source said Phra Phrom Methee was attending an event in Phitsanulok on May 24 when police raided three temples in Bangkok and arrested five senior monks, including Sangha Supreme councillors, for alleged involvement in the embezzlement of state temple development funds.

On learning of the arrests, Phra Phrom Methee travelled to Nakhon Phanom instead of returning to Wat Samphanthawong.

He travelled in a chauffeur-driven black van owned by a well-to-do woman follower to Wat Pa Sukhontharak in Renu Nakhon district of Nakhon Phanom.

There the lady contacted a Lao woman, who was also a follower of Phra Phrom Methee, to arrange his escape across the Mekong River to Laos. The Lao woman was in Thakhek, the capital of Khammouane province, the source said.

The source said Phra Phrom Methee has now left Khammouane for Vientiane after learning that police were stepping up their hunt for him.

Pol Gen Chakthip was discussing the former senior monk's extradition with Lao authorities, the source said.

According to the source, Phra Phrom Methee had expected the legal action long before the raids and had told his followers that he was not worried because he had many followers in Laos who were ready to look after him.

Phra Phrom Methee is one of seven monks who had their monastic ranks revoked by His Majesty the King in the wake of the scandal under a royal command published in the Royal Gazette on Wednesday.

The scandal involves millions of baht that were siphoned from funds for temple development and Buddhist studies allocated by the National Office of Buddhism (NOB).

Some NOB officials, monks and laymen are among the suspects.

According to investigators, the officials contacted temple abbots to propose funding for projects and demanded kickbacks from them.

The abbots were expected to give them some “change” in exchange for the funding, the investigators said.

Phra Phrom Methee was also expelled from the SSC along with two others — the former Phra Phrom Sitthi, and the former Phra Phrom Dilok.

The former Phra Phrom Sitthi, formerly the abbot of Wat Sa Ket in Bangkok, surrendered to police on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the former Phra Phrom Dilok, the former abbot of Wat Sam Phraya in Bangkok, was arrested during last Thursday's police raids on three Buddhist temples in Bangkok.

The pair were defrocked and are now incarcerated at Bangkok Remand Prison.

Last Thursday police also arrested activist monk Phra Buddha Isara at Wat Or Noi in Nakhon Pathom province.

He was charged with running an illegal secret society and using royal seals without permission.

The source said police were also seeking warrants for the arrest of a couple who own a shop selling religious supplies in Nonthaburi's Bang Kruai district after an examination of the money trail found the "suspicious" transfer of about 3 million baht from a bank account belong to Wat Sam Phraya to the shop.

The same source said police would also seek arrest warrants for the Thai woman and the Lao national who allegedly helped Phra Phrom Methee flee to Laos.

They will likely face prosecution for aiding criminal suspects on the run, in violation of Section 189 of the Criminal Code. Violators are liable to a jail term of up to two years and/or a fine of up to 4,000 baht.

Krit Krasaethip, the director of Bangkok Remand Prison, said that Thongchai Sukkho, the former Phra Phrom Sitthi, was due to be moved yesterday from the prison's reception centre to Zone 3 of the facility.

He will stay there with four former Wat Sa Ket assistant abbots who have also been detained there.

The former monk appeared to be handling the situation well despite suffering from allergies and muscle weakness, Mr Krit said.

Meanwhile, Jaroon Wannakasinanont, leader of a group calling itself the Chao Phut Phalang Phaendin Group (Group of Buddhists Who Are the Power of the Land) lodged a complaint against NOB director Col Pongporn Phramsane with the Crime Suppression Division yesterday for damaging the reputation of monks.

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