Senior monk faces temple fund theft rap

Senior monk faces temple fund theft rap

Cleric suspected of stealing B110m

NAKHON NAYOK: Police arrested a deputy chief monk of the province yesterday on suspicion of stealing 110 million baht over nine years from local temple funds in collusion with a missing former chief of the National Office of Buddhism.

Police searched the living quarters of Phra Sitthi Woranayok, abbot of Wat Khao Durian in tambon Khao Phra of Muang district, at about 6am yesterday. The abbot is also the deputy monastic chief of Nakhon Nayok.

He was charged with embezzling about 110 million baht of development funds intended for local temples from 2007 to 2016 in a conspiracy with Nopparat Benjawatananun, the missing person.

Police said the two men had disbursed 123 million baht from government coffers during the nine-year period that were intended for the development of 12 local temples including Wat Khao Durian.

But after the temples received the money, they had the management of the temples withdraw most of the funds and the two men managed to keep 110 million baht for themselves, leaving only 13 million baht with the temples.

They claimed the money they kept would support development projects at other temples in need.

Police said Phra Sitthi Woranayok and Mr Nopparat instead shared the money and spent it buying land and other assets. They each bought three blocks of land, covering about 10 rai, for 18.6 million baht from landowners close to them. The property acquisition was seen as money laundering, police said.

Authorities believe Mr Nopparat fled the country in 2016. A luxury house believed to belong to him was searched in 2017 and many assets and documents impounded for examination.

Pol Col Pitak Warit, superintendent of the Crime Suppression Division (CSD), said police questioned the abbots of the other 11 temples as witnesses but only Phra Sitthi Woranayok was charged.

He said police would also look into the land-holdings of Phattanan Benjawatananun, the wife of Mr Nopparat, as well as her daughter, Natthaporn Tun, and ask the court to issue warrants for their arrest for alleged involvement in the wrongdoing.

It is suspected that some of the land plots they owned were bought with the embezzled money, Pol Col Pitak said.

Sornchai Chuwichian, assistant to the secretary-general of the National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC), said the agency has handled 108 cases involving embezzlement of temple funds.

Of the total, 42 have been wrapped up and forwarded to other agencies for further action, he said, adding those that surfaced in 2015 alone caused at least 700 million in damages.

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