The actions of a previously little-known Thailand monk has thrust the Sangha (commonly used to refer to ordained Buddhist monks) in Thailand onto the front pages of daily newspapers, with claims of money laundering, an illegitimate child and millions of baht in “laundered” money only serving to spice up the soap-opera-like story.
The scandal first began to emerge on June 17 when mainstream Thai media began taking notice of a video clip posted on YouTube almost a month earlier showing the abbot of Wat Pa Khantitham in Thailand’s northeastern Si Sa Ket province landing at Ubon Ratchathani International Airport aboard a private jet wearing sunglasses, with expensive headphones and what appears to be a Louis Vuitton bag casually dumped on an adjoining seat.
Since the reports first hit the mainstream media the video has attracted more than 841,000 views, garnering 291 likes and 796 unlikes in the process, with the almost daily salacious and outrageous accusation after accusation almost putting the plots concocted by the country’s soap opera scriptwriters to shame.
The monk, identified as 34-year-old Phra Wirapol Sukphol, better known as Luang Pu Nenkham Chattigo, is reportedly in France and soon after the public outcry began, announced that he was postponing his return to Thailand indefinitely.
In the weeks following the first disclosure an increasing number of accusations have been made, with Thailand’s Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) freezing bank accounts of the abbot and his close associates – reportedly containing more than Bt200 million (about US$6.4 million*) spread over 10 of 16 different bank accounts – following a complaint by a Facebook group calling itself the Facebook network against acts that destroy the nation, religion and the royal institution.
In a country where the misbehaviour and defrocking of monks following reports such as Monk: I do meth to lose weight, Monk took yaba to ease dog bite pain, Villagers ‘fed up’ with Surin monk, Mad Monk Hacks Neck Of 75-Year-Old Temple Boy and Monk defrocked after Phuket drugs, women bender barely raise an eyebrow, the actions of the abbot of Wat Pa Khantitham are rocking the Sangha in Thailand due to the sheer number of transgressions of monastic principles.
Among the accusations leveled at the monk are that he:
- is rumored to have a personal wealth of more than Bt1 billion ($32 million)
- had up to Bt200 million ($6.4 million*) in constant circulation since 2010
- solicited donations for the construction of a hospital and donations to build the world’s biggest Emerald Buddha replica without undertaking the work or gaining approval from the National Office of Buddhism
- made a TV ad for an air purifier and urged buddhists to make merit by buying that particular brand and donating it to monks because “this one is the best”
- Collected (according to him) more than 9,000kg of gold from his followers in the impoverished Kanthararom district of Si Saket as “clothes” for a a giant Buddha image he had constructed
- had intimate relationships with eight women – one of who he is sad to have first approached when she was a grade 8 student aged 14 and later fathered a child, now aged 11 with and perhaps several others.
- often travelled in a super luxury Maybach car and claimed to own a Mercedes-Benz S500, a BMW X6 and a Mini Cooper just for driving inside the temple compound
- asked the the founder and CEO of Bangkok Aviation Centre to purchase a private jet for him in the USA.
- drunk alcohol, took illegal drugs, watched pornographic videos and had sex with many teenage girls
Despite having received a string of complaints early on about the wayward monk, Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism, the organisation responsible for the Sangha in Thailand and its 61,000 or so monks, initially brushed aside the complaints saying his actions were not a serious breach of monastic principles.
Public outcry and the daily tabloid-like media headlines in both the vernacular and English-language media and Thai social media channels has seen a monks committee established by the Sangha Supreme Council in Thailand, as well as the adoption of the matter as a special case by Thailand’s Department of Special Investigations (DSI).
However, even this has drawn criticism and accusations of corruption and nepotism with claims the monk had purchased luxury cars for at least two high-ranking monks in Ubon Ratchathani, one of whom had been appointed to the committee formed to investigate him. It has been further claimed that last year he purchased vans for the Highway Police and the Mahamongkut Buddhist University.
After having failed to attend a meeting of the Sangha committee investigating the claims against him and with its investigation showing evidence of serious criminal offences having been committed, the DSI has said it will seek Phra Wirapol Sukphol’s extradition from France if he fails to report for questioning by the end of this month.
However, France is not one of the 15 countries that Thailand has a formal extradition treaty in place with and any extradition proceedings are likely to be protracted.
With a survey by the National Institute of Development and Administration late last year finding that 65 per cent of the 1,174 people interviewed aware of sexual misconduct, drug and alcohol abuse by Thailand’s monks, some are now questioning whether it is time the Sangha in Thailand went through a total overhaul, the current structure of the clergy having been in place now for almost 100 years.
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