Pongsakorn Chankaeo, formerly known as Phra Kato, reported to police on Tuesday to acknowledge an embezzlement charge over the withdrawal of 600,000 baht from a temple in Nakhon Si Thammarat province.
Mr Pongsakorn, who left the monkhood on April 30 following the leak of an audio recording of a conversation concerning a secret sexual relationship, went to the Anti-Corruption Division on Tuesday to report to Pol Maj Gen Charoonkiart Pankaew, commander of the division; Pol Maj Gen Sithatkhet Khruwatanaset, deputy commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau, and police investigators.
The former monk, 23, was charged with embezzling temple funds while staying in the monkhood at Wat Pen Yat in Chawang district, Nakhon Si Thammarat.
He withdrew 600,000 baht from the temple’s bank account and gave half to a 37-year-old woman with whom he had a sexual liaison.
The balance he allegedly gave to another monk to relay to a local news reporter, who later declined to take the money.
Pol Maj Gen Sithatkhet said Mr Pongsakorn was summoned to give his statement after Phra Racha Worayan, the abbot of Wat Buppharam Woraviharn in Bangkok, filed a complaint against him for allegedly embezzling the temple funds.
On May 4, Mr Pongsakorn returned the money in cash to the temple via an intermediary.
A police source said investigators found out that Wat Pen Yat former abbot Luang Phor Klom, who passed away last year, had asked Phra Racha Worayan to help look after the temple.ad
After Phra Racha Worayan was officially appointed as the acting abbot of Wat Pen Yat, he had assigned then Phra Kato to help oversee the temple.
According to the investigation, three people had been authorised to withdraw money from the temple. There were Phra Kato and two temple committee members – Mr Santi Chongrat and another man identified only as Jun.
The investigation found that previous withdrawals were mostly signed by Phra Kato and Mr Santi.
Aside from 600,000-baht cash withdrawn from the temple’s bank account, Phra Kato and Mr Santi also made two more withdrawals – 500,000 baht and another 100,000 baht on April 25 and April 27, respectively. Of the money, 500,000 baht was later transferred to the bank account of Mr Santi, who then transferred 300,000 baht to Phra Don, a monk close to Phra Kato.
The investigators would summon Mr Pongsakorn, the woman with whom he had an affair, Mr Santi and Phra Don for questioning over alleged temple fund embezzlement.
Speaking to media members after reporting to the investigators, Mr Pongsakorn admitted to withdrawing money from the temple’s bank account but said had no intention to embezzle it.
He said he presented evidence about money transfers and chat conservation messages to the investigation team.
He made two withdrawals – 500,000 baht and 100,000 baht – from the temple’s bank account for personal purposes. Other withdrawals he made, he had not spent the money for personal purposes, said the former monk, adding he had evidence to back his claims.
He and another temple committee member had jointly signed their names for the withdrawals of the temple money in line with regulations, he said.
Mr Pongsakorn denied embezzling the temple’s money. He said he was not aware that borrowing money from the temple was wrong. He already returned 600,000 baht to the temple.
The former monk and popular preacher said he wanted to thank the people who understand his situation and would like to apologise to the public for the things he had done.
He admitted to his misconduct over the previous three months and to giving 300,000 baht to the woman to end their controversial relationship after she made repeated demands for money.
The leak of the audio recording led to reports that Phra Kato occasionally had sex with the woman in a car on the crest of Kathoon dam in Phiphun district of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
He entered the monkhood in 2017 and had many followers who were attracted by his entertaining way of teaching Buddhism over social media.