THE former assistant abbot of Bangkok’s Sa Ket Temple, Phra Medhisuttikorn, yesterday surrendered to police at the Crime Suppression Division (CSD) after a warrant was issued last week for his arrest over alleged embezzlement of the National Buddhism Office (NBO) funds to temples.
The monk, born Sangkhom Sangkhapat, was reportedly stripped of his clerical title over the scandal and now faces charges of aiding officials to embezzle, abuse of his temple position, and conspiracy in money-laundering. Sangkhom, the eighth monk for whom an arrest warrant was issued in this case, was accused of joining with NBO officials to propose a Bt10-million budget for dhamma school projects, a police source said.
After receiving the money, he and Sa Ket Temple assistant abbot Phra Wijitdhammaporn, who is already in custody, allegedly issued cashier cheques in favour of another arrested Sa Ket Temple staff member, Thawit Sangyoo, to gradually withdraw the cash at Bt1.8 million per time until all the money was gone, the police source said. Police are now checking the money trail after the withdrawals, the source said.
After a five-hour-long interrogation during which he maintained his innocence, police brought Sangkhom to the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases at 3pm to apply for a detention order. The court rejected his bail request on grounds that he might tamper with evidence.
Meanwhile, the police Counter-Corruption Division (CCD) chief, Pol Maj-General Kamol Rienracha, said the investigation’s fourth stage is looking at corrupt state officials and their accomplices. He said wrongdoing had been confirmed among the officials already charged in the earlier stages of the probe, from 2011-16.
Kamol vowed to continue the investigation until all wrongdoing was uncovered. No particular temple was targeted, he said. The CCD was looking at every temple that had received more than Bt1 million in development funding during 2011-16.
Each time a wrongdoing is alleged, Kamol said, the NBO director is notified that further evidence would be sought and if evidence established sufficient grounds, the NBO director would file a formal complaint with the CCD.
No such complaint had been filed so far in the fourth stage of the investigation, he said, while declining to specify how many temples were under suspicion. A CCD source said laws had been broken at 29 temples, including several well-known temples not involved in earlier rounds of the probe. Total losses to the state are estimated at Bt102 million.
The earlier stages uncovered corruption amounting to Bt340 million in losses through misappropriation of funds for temple restoration and general development, for propagating Buddhism and for subsidising dhamma schools. The first phase of the investigation found 12 instances of corruption involving 10 suspects and losses of Bt61 million. The second, covering 476 temples, opened 23 cases with 19 suspects and Bt140 million in losses.
The third, involving 10 temples and Bt140 million in losses, led to 11 corruption cases with 19 suspects – including seven monks, along with 10 active and former NBO officials – of whom eight were accused in the first two phases – and two civilians directly involved in graft or with knowledge of it. Those 11 cases were forwarded to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) in April.
NACC secretary-general Worawit Sukboon said on Wednesday that four of the cases involving three temples had been sent back to the CCD with instructions to proceed with prosecution. The four cases include allegations against senior monks Phra Phromsitti, the abbot of Sa Ket Temple; Phra Phrommedhi, the assistant abbot of Wat Samphanthawongsaram; Phra Phromdilok, the abbot of Wat Sam Phraya; and Phra Medhisuttikorn and Phra Wijitdhammaporn, the assistant abbots at Sa Ket Temple.