Suspect denies stealing temple funds, says money was 'gift'

Suspect denies stealing temple funds, says money was 'gift'

One of the luxury cars of a suspected embezzler of funds of Wat Bowonniwet Vihara is found during a condominium raid on March 23, 2022. (Photo: Wassayos Ngamkham)
One of the luxury cars of a suspected embezzler of funds of Wat Bowonniwet Vihara is found during a condominium raid on March 23, 2022. (Photo: Wassayos Ngamkham)

The alleged embezzler of about 190 million baht intended for the renovation of Wat Bowonniwet Vihara has denied the charge, claiming the money was given to him as as a "gift", Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) commissioner Pol Lt Gen Jirapop Puridet said on Monday.

The suspect was arrested by Crime Suppression Division police on March 23 at a condominium in Bangkok after CSD investigators discovered evidence of embezzlement of funds intended for the renovation of Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, which is in Phra Nakhon district of Bangkok, and its branch temples.

The man was a close acquaintance of the late Somdet Phra Wannarat, the abbot of Wat Bowonniwet Vihara.

His full name has not been released by police, who initially identified him only as Noei. Media outlets partly identified him as Apirat.

The alleged embezzlement occurred while the revered abbot was receiving treatment for gall bladder cancer at Chulalongkorn Hospital. He died on March 15.

In the March 23 condominium raid, CSD police uncovered a wealth of goods including Bentley, Porsche, Volvo, BMW and Lexus cars, some cash, bank accounts, brand name bags and gold-plated amulets, worth about 100 million baht in total. They were impounded for examination.

Pol Lt Gen Jiradet said that investigators learned the funds were mostly intended for renovation and construction work at three branch temples in the Central and East regions.

He said the suspect had denied embezzling the money, asserting that it was given to him as a "gratuitous gift".

The investigators found his statement incredible and in contradiction of the evidence.

The CIB chief said police were also investigating whether the suspect had transferred some assets to close associates or other people.

Anyone found to have received property from the suspect could be arrested and charged with money laundering, he said.

Pol Lt Gen Jiradet said the total amount of the embezzled money might exceed 190 million baht.

Sources said police were also investigating an allegation that the suspect had similarly embezzled funds from two temples in Trat province - about 80 million baht from a fund intended for a construction project at Wat Rattanavararam, and another 10 million baht intended for the construction of a school at Wat Khiriwiharn.  

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