Jet-setting monk gets new life in US

Jet-setting monk gets new life in US

Fugitive jet-setting monk Luang Pu Nen Kham claims he has officially received refugee status in the United States and will launch a new sect next year in California.

In an interview with exiled anti-coup Thai journalist Jom Petchpradub, the 36-year-old renegade monk, who goes by the layman name Wirapol Sukphol, said his new American monastery would be registered as a foundation and would be a "new sect" that had nothing to do with Thailand's Sangha Supreme Council.

The founder of the online news outlet Thai Voice Media posted the information in a YouTube video. The monk did not want to be interviewed in front of the camera and Mr Jom simply relayed the answers that Mr Wirapol purportedly told him.

The video, however, showed Mr Wirapol presiding over the laying of the cornerstone for the a pavilion at the Khanti Baramee forest monastery in Lake Elsinore, east of Los Angeles, on Sept 20. A religious ceremony also was held to celebrate his belated birthday two days earlier.

According to Mr Jom's report, Mr Wirapol would start his new life as a monk and had changed his name as Phra Vimuttiyarn.

Mr Wirapol said he still owned a jet, but declined to state its whereabouts.

In 2013, Mr Wirapol gained notoriety following the release of video footage showed him travelling aboard a luxury private jet while still a monk. He also was carrying a Louis Vuitton bag, wore brand-name sunglasses and owned more than 100 luxury cars and a large number of land holdings.

He was reported to have fled Thailand that year and taken refuge in France before moving to the US. He was defrocked in absentia after allegations of his criminal behaviour and high-flying lifestyle had been revealed.

The Department of Special Investigation has pressed eight charges against him, including child abduction, statutory rape, fraud, money laundering and breaching the Computer Crimes Act.

Authorities seized a total of 380 million baht in his bank accounts but he was able to take cash and gold out of the country. He told Mr Jom, however, that he has spent about US$30 million to start his new American life.

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