Police have detained a temple caretaker and two associates and seized and returned to the abbot about 63 million baht the trio allegedly embezzled from donated temple funds.
Nakhon Sawan governor Chayant Sirimas led senior police officers in handing back the stolen money to 100-year-old Phra Ratchamongkhol Watcharacharn, or Luang Phor Phat Panyakamo, abbot of Wat Huai Duan (known as Tharn Thaharn temple) in Nong Bua district on Tuesday.
The governor was accompanied by Pol Lt Gen Jiraphob Bhuridej, commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau; Pol Lt Gen Akkharadet Phimolsri, commissioner of the Provincial Police Region 6; and Pol Maj Gen Charoonkiart Pankaew, commander of the Anti-Corruption Division
Police launched an investigation after receiving a complaint on Oct 26 from followers of Luang Phor Phat, Pol Lt Gen Jirabhob said.
They alleged that people in charge of the temple’s assets were untrustworthy and had embezzled for their own use money donated for temple development, religious ceremonies and the healthcare of the abbot.
Pol Maj Gen Charoonkiart said investigators found that three people had transferred a total of 63,034,470 baht of donated money into seven personal bank accounts.
He named the temple caretaker Sanoh Thongpron and two women, Chayanya Phetsaibua and Booncherd Sukchit.
Investigators froze the bank accounts and seized the funds and other documents for examination, and asked the three suspects to explain the sources of the money.
During questioning, they admitted the money belonged to the abbot, Pol Maj Gen Charoonkiat said.
The abbot told police that he had asked the temple caretaker and his associates to deposit donated funds into his bank account, so it would be convenient for him to withdraw money to pay for construction a new pagoda in the temple’s pond.
He had asked Mr Sanoh to withdraw 15 million baht so he could pay to builder, but Mr Sanoh did not produce the money. He had to find money from other sources to pay for the construction.
Pol Maj Gen Charoonkiat said the three suspects had since signed approval for the withdrawal of the money from their bank accounts and its return to the abbot.
Investigators had also frozen another bank account operated by Mr Sanoh that had 7.9 million baht in it, and would look into whether that money also belonged to the temple.
“Police will take legal action against the offenders based on evidence and will not exclude anyone from charges.
“The first step is that the officers take back the embezzled money and return it to the temple.
As for charges against the people involved, the investigation will be sped up and the report passed to the National Anti-Corruption Commission within 30 days for further action,’’ he said.
Luang Phor Phat is highly respected and has a large following.
He is reported to receive donations of more than 100 million baht a year, using the funds for ceremonies and distributing funds to other temples, hospitals and schools for use in the public interest.
Nakhon Sawan governor Chayant Sirimas and senior police return more than 63 million baht in embezzled donations to Luang Phor Phat Panyakamo, abbot of Wat Huai Duan, in Nong Bua district, Nakhon Sawan, on Tuesday. The temple caretaker and two associates tasked with managing the temple’s assets have been detained. (Photo supplied)