By THE NATION
THREE senior monks have lost their place in the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC) over a corruption scandal, which prompted police to stage unprecedented and simultaneous raids on temples yesterday.
SSC, which is Thailand’s highest body for monastic affairs, resolved to dismiss Sa Ket Temple's abbot Phra Phromsitti (Thongchai Sukhayano), Sam Phraya Temple abbot Phra Phromdilok (Euan Hasadhammo), and Samphanthawongsaram Temple abbot Phra Phrommedhi (Chamnong Dhammajari) as its members yesterday.
The three senior monks were wanted for alleged embezzlement of state funds for their temples. Also implicated are Sa Ket Temple’s three assistant abbots Phra Srikunaporn (Boonthavee Khamma), Phra Khru Siriviharnkarn (Somjit Jansri), and Phra Wijitdhammaporn (Terd Yanawachiro) and Phra Attakij Sophon, the secretary to Bangkok’s monastic chief.
All the suspects except Phra Phromsitti and Phra Phrommedhi were nabbed. The two very senior monks could not be found during sweeping searches at their temples yesterday and are believed to be on the run.
Phra Phromsitti, 62, is the chief of Monastic Region 10 and also the chairman of Dhammaduta Office, while Phra Phrommedhi is an SSC member.
“We have taken action based on evidence. We hope temple followers understand that Buddhism and individuals are two different things,” Central Investigation Bureau commissioner Pol Lt-General Thitiraj Nhongharnpitak said yesterday.
According to police, there is clear evidence of budget irregularities at the Sa Ket Temple. Even though the temple does not operate a Dhamma school, it asked and received a budget of Bt87.5 million for the school in 2014.
Two years later, Sa Ket Temple also suspiciously implemented two projects. The temple received Bt37.2 million for the first project, which had the written objective of promoting morality. However, financial flows showed the Sa Ket Temple transferred the amount to two other temples and suspiciously received Bt29.2 million back.
The second project received a Bt32.5 million budget for Buddhism promotion. Of the amount, Bt25 million was transferred to the bank accounts of Nuchara Sittinok, who turned out to be a housemaid of Armed Forces staffer Second Lieutenant Thititat Niponpittaya, and Thirapong Pansri.
Nuchara, Thirapong, Thititat’s mother Kamporn Niponpittaya and Sa Ket Temple’s Tawich Sangyoo are now charged with money-laundering.
Police said as for the Samphanthawongsaram and Sam Phraya temples, both received Bt5 million in funding from the government but suspiciously transferred money to nine bank accounts of laymen.
It is widely believed that Phra Phromsitti and Phra Phrommedhi are on the run. An informed source said Phra Phromsitti was last seen at the Sa Ket Temple at 4pm on Wednesday.
“I’m not worried about [the abbot’s disappearance],” Crime Suppression Division (CSD) commander Pol Maj-General Maitree Chimcherd said. “No matter where he goes, we will find and arrest him eventually.”
Maitree, who led the raid on Sa Ket Temple, said 10 bank passbooks belonging to Phra Phromsitti had been found.
“The passbooks show he had Bt132 million in his accounts. But the Anti-Money Laundering Office has already frozen them,” he said.
Reached by phone, Immigration Bureau commissioner Pol Lt-General Sutthipong Wongpin said there was no indication that Phra Phromsitti had left the country and his office had now put the monk on the blacklist.
The five accused monks were denied bail by the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases.