By THE NATION
The arrests were made after raids at 10 locations nationwide yesterday.
Among those arrested was newly identified suspect Chayapol Pongsida, the former deputy director of the National Buddhism Office (NBO).
Chayapol, who denied any wrongdoing in supervising Bt62 million allocated from the NBO to Wat Sa Ket in 2016, revealed that a majority of the NBO temple funds totalling Bt5 billion a year went to famous temples in Bangkok.
Police Counter-Corruption Division (CCD) deputy commander Pol Colonel Warayuth Sukhawat, who took part in the joint operation involving the CCD and the Crime Suppression Division (CSD), earlier said Chayapol was identified as a suspect after a police probe found he had allegedly wired money to a temple in Lampang and then demanded that the temple send back the “change” money.
NBO former director Phanom Sornsilp, a suspect in the second scandal, was arrested yesterday at his house in the Sampran district of Nakhon Pathom province. His house had been searched last September when gold bars worth over Bt1.4 million along with land title deeds and documents were also seized.
Also arrested in separate locations were five other suspects in the second scandal: Samut Songkhram Buddhism Office director Kaew Chidtakob; Nakhon Pathom Buddhism Office academic Pattana Su-ammartmontri; Lampang Buddhism Office director Boonlert Sopa; Sing Buri Buddhism Office director Narongdej Chainet; NBO Phrapariyatidhamma education division head Pornpen Kittitarangkoon, as well as a suspect in the first and second scandals – NBO temple development and religious funding division head Wasawat Kittitheerasit.
The lastest suspect captured in the South was a newly identified suspect, Jessada Wongmek who is a construction contractor.
One elusive fugitive is former NBO deputy director-general and Samut Prakan Buddhism Office director Pranom Kongpikul, who has fled the country.
Recent probes have revealed cases of alleged misuse or illegitimate diversion of some temple funds meant either to maintain and restore temples, or to support the propagation of Buddhism, or to support Phrapariyatidhamma schools. These cases were divided into three batches.
In the first scandal, two former NBO chiefs Nopparat Benjawattananan and Phanom and several senior officials were accused of taking many millions of baht in kickbacks from temples in Amnat Charoen, Ayutthaya and Lamphun provinces.
The second batch probe identified 19 suspects, comprising 13 civil servants, four monks and two civilians. In the third scandal, five senior monks were initially accused of embezzling state funds meant for the Phrapariyatidhamma schools.