By PIYANUCH THAMNUKASETCHAI
THE NATIONAL Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has found three current or former government officials guilty of embezzling state subsidies for temples.
The guilty are the National Buddhism Office (NOB)’s former directors Phanom Sornsilp and Nopparat Benjawatananan, and former deputy director Pranom Kongpikul.
“The NACC has resolved that Phanom, Nopparat and Pranom violated Articles 147, 151 and 157 of the Criminal Code,” NACC deputy secretary-general Warawit Sukboon said yesterday.
He said they also committed grave disciplinary offences, as they were involved in corruption.
Warawit said Nopparat’s close aide Chompunut Chanluechai – who is not a state official – was also found to have been an accomplice and was guilty of supporting government officials’ wrongdoing.
Warawit said that in 2014, Pranom – who at that time served as the head of the National Buddhism Office’s Buddhist Monastery Division – contacted Phanan Choeng Temple saying that her office would provide Bt10 million in state subsidies to the temple on the condition that it agreed to return Bt8 million.
“Pranom told the temple the office needed that part of money back to cover expenses for activities that could not be reimbursed,” Warawit said.
He said that after the temple made the promise, Nopparat approved the Bt10-million budget.
“Unlike normal cases, the budget given to Phanan Choeng Temple does not have a request for budget from the temple,” he pointed out.
The investigation by the NACC shows that the temple transferred Bt8 million to the bank account of Chompunut.
Warawit said Pranom also contacted Phanan Choeng Temple again in 2015 with a similar suggestion but this time asking the temple to hand over Bt5 million cash to her.
“The NACC has offered the accused opportunities to explain themselves but we have found solid evidence that they worked as a network to perpetuate the offence,” he said.
In February, the National Council for Peace and Order removed Phanom from the helm of the National Buddhism Office via Article 44 of the interim constitution.
In September, officials raided Phanom’s home and discovered gold bars weighing about 1.2 kilograms. A source said Phanom’s assets must have been worth more than Bt100 million.
Nopparat left Thailand for the United States before authorities started seriously investigating. Nopparat and Phanom have denied wrongdoing.