Temple fraud case builds steam

Temple fraud case builds steam

Nakhon Nayok abbot on B110m rap

Police have begun tracing financial transactions of a senior monk in Nakhon Nayok charged with embezzling 110 million baht over nine years from local temple funds.

Pol Maj Gen Charoonkiat Pankaew, commander of the police Anti-Corruption Division (ACD), said yesterday investigators have seized assets worth 21 million baht from Phra Sitthi Woranayok, abbot of Wat Khao Durian, and are looking for the remaining 90 million baht.

Pol Maj Gen Charoonkiat said the monk claimed he could not remember where the rest of the money is and that police will examine financial transactions of people close to the monk.

Phra Sitthi Woranayok was arrested on Friday on charges of theft and money laundering in connection with embezzlement of about 110 million baht of development funds intended for local temples from 2007 to 2016.

According to the investigation, the monk allegedly colluded with Nopparat Benjawatananun, former chief of the National Office of Buddhism (NOB), in disbursing 123 million baht over a nine-year period from government coffers 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 would support development projects at other temples in need, but according to police, Phra Sitthi Woranayok and Mr Nopparat instead shared the money and spent it buying land and other assets.

Pol Maj Gen Charoonkiat said the confiscated assets worth 21 million baht are three plots of land.

They are key pieces of evidence to support the allegations against the monk and his alleged accomplice.

Based on witnesses' statements, the monk paid for the land in cash for Mr Nopparat and the land was held by Phattanan Benjawatananun, the wife of Mr Nopparat, and her daughter, Natthaporn, as part of the alleged cover-up, he said.

The ACD chief said investigators will meet soon to determine who else will be questioned and how to capture Mr Nopparat, Ms Phattanan and Ms Natthaporn, who are on the run and believed to have fled the country.

He said it is up to the NOB to consider what actions can be taken against Phra Sitthi Woranayok after police found liquor, condoms and BB guns in his living quarters during the search.

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