Cops crack down on criminal monks
Wrongdoers don saffron robes to conceal their crimes
The Crime Suppression Division (CSD) has added a Suphan Buri temple abbot to a list of arrested criminal suspects on Valentine's Day in its latest operation to "purify" Buddhism.
A day earlier the CSD announced it nabbed 18 monks accused of various wrongdoings, including murders and sexual harassment.
CSD chief Chiraphop Phuridet vowed his agency will make 2019 a year of "sweeping temples clean" by further unmasking criminals-turned-monks nationwide.
Investigators are identifying who they are and tracking down where they were ordained, getting clues from piles of arrest warrants.
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"I've ordered CSD officers to conduct cross-country investigations by looking at each arrest warrant," Pol Maj Gen Chiraphop told the Bangkok Post.
The suspects cannot simply use the monkhood to shield themselves, he stressed. "I want to purify the religion, so people will trust monks wholeheartedly again."
The latest case in Suphan Buri, the 19th on the list, came to light after police found Phra Sangkharak Kanatathamo, abbot of Wat Ro Charoen in Bang Pla Ma district, had escaped charges of attempted murder and illegal possession of weapons for 15 years.
The 40-year-old monk is actually Paphonsan Phetphun who, along with his friends, allegedly shot a rival in Nakhon Si Thammarat's Tha Sala district in 2006, according to the CSD.
The following year, he again fired a gun at a person in Surat Thani's Koh Samui district.
The suspect entered the monkhood to escape arrest warrants issued by Nakhon Si Thammarat and Samui provincial courts and appeared to have got away with it until police caught up with him on Valentine's Day.
Cases like this are dangerous as suspects often simply continue to offend. "They exploit people's faith to commit more wrongdoings," Pol Maj Gen Chiraphop said.
"The problem is, people don't know [their past criminal records] and local police don't pay much heed.
"If no immediate action is taken, not only will Buddhism be marred, but monks wearing saffron merely to hide their misdeeds will also raise concerns over the safety of temple goers," he said.
"They do not know whether monks they 'wai', or pay respect to, are in fact involved in serious crimes."
A monk in a temple in the northeastern province of Kalasin had been also on the run for a charge of attempted murder for 15 years, the CSD said.
The alleged wrongdoing of Phra Bunchu, or Bunchu Champasi, 48, after he, along with a female suspect, injured a rival with a broken bottle during a dispute in Rayong in 2007 was totally unknown to his followers in Kalasin.
The CSD says it needs help if it is to nab these monks.
"Temples and people dealing with ordination must carefully check the criminal backgrounds of prospective monks," Pol Maj Gen Chiraphop said.