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Here comes most awaited former monk

Jul 19. 2017
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By THE NATION

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The notorious monk "Nen Kham" or Wirphon Sukhon, arrived Bangkok last night after a US Court of Justice approved Thailand's extradition request.

He was escorted back from Los Angeles to Bangkok via Japan by officials from Department of Special Investigation and Office of Attorney General.

He was notified of three charges; money laundering, sexual harrassment against children and fraud upon arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

He still wore yellow robes and reports have said he would be defrocked to face charges.

Yesterday, it was reported that Thailand has tried to keep quiet the extradition of the notorious former monk out of concern that his followers in the United States could cause chaos to block the extradition process, officials have said.

Amnat Chotchai, director-general of the Office of the Attorney-General’s International Department, said at a press briefing on Wednesday that both the US and Thailand considered the issue to be sensitive, so all parties concerned had to act prudently.

Although a US court has approved the extradition, Amnat emphasised that care would have to be employed to ensure that the process to return Wiraphon to Thailand was problem-free.

At the time of the briefing, Thai officials had been sent to pick up Wiraphon and he had already boarded a flight from Los Angeles to Bangkok via Japan, Amnat said.

The former monk, who is wanted in Thailand on charges of sexual sexually harassing children, fraud, violation of the Computer Act and money laundering involving about Bt40 million, was scheduled to arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport at about 10pm on Wednesday, he said.

Wiraphon, 38, is the former head of Wat Pakhantitham forest monastery in Si Sa Ket province and, despite manifold controversies, he has been praised by his followers as a devout monk who helped to popularise the monastery. 

Before fleeing Thailand, the former monk was known for an extravagant lifestyle, including his use of brand-name products and travel by private jets, even though he was still in the monkhood. A video clip released in 2013 showed him travelling by personal jet, carrying a Louis Vuitton bag and wearing brand-name sunglasses. 

Another clip that showed a man who looked like Wiraphon having sex with a woman went viral on the Internet, although he maintained that the man depicted on the video was his brother. 

However, a woman claimed in a Si Sa Ket court that Wiraphon had fathered her child and said she was prepared to submit the child to a DNA test. 

As the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) sought to indict him, approximately Bt2 billion in his bank accounts and land and houses were seized pending trial. 

US authorities arrested the former monk on July 22 last year at the request of Thai authorities based on the aforementioned charges. Wiraphol was reportedly defrocked after his arrest and denied bail in the US. 

Amnat said a California court had subsequently approved Wiraphol’s extradition based on the request of the Thai Auditor-General on May 18, giving him two months until July 18 to appeal the ruling. 

US officials then contacted their Thai counterparts telling them to send a team to pick up Wiraphol before the deadline expired, adding that otherwise Wiraphol would be freed and his extradition could not be requested again. 

Apparently because of the sensitivity of the process, information about the extradition was only released to the public last week, leading many to assume that Wiraphol had until September to appeal. The issue was further confused when it was disclosed that the Auditor-General had sent a team of officers to the US amid questions why authorities had not waited until the September deadline.

Speaking at the same press briefing, Auditor-General spokesperson Somnuek Siengkong said his office did not have any information about Wiraphol’s health. “The US has told the Thai side to strictly treat Wiraphol according to human rights principles and dignity,” he said, adding that the former monk had rights according to the law including access to lawyers and relatives and medical treatment by doctors.

Amnat provided further details of the extradition process, saying Thai officials had collected the relevant evidence and documents and forwarded them to their US counterparts on November 30, 2015.

While declining to speculate broadly on Wiraphol’s decision not to appeal the extradition, Amnat said legal expenses were more expensive in the US than in Thailand.

He also defended against criticism that Thai authorities had been very slow in bringing the former monk back to the country, saying the process was very detailed and time consuming.

According to the extradition protocol, Wiraphol and Thai officials were expected to board flights first and exit last. As he was expected to arrive in Bangkok on Wednesday night, the DSI planned to arrest him and inform him of the charges against him. 

Officials at the press conference added that the Attorney-General had ordered officers to treat Wiraphol according to the law, protecting his rights in line with US standards.

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