By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM,
THE TIGER Temple yesterday defended its abbot, saying he was not involved in the wildlife trade.
The abbot, who had absconded during the raids on the temple meanwhile, returned but cancelled his scheduled press conference because of a “heart attack”. However, later he was seen inside the premises and he even waved to the waiting media.
The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) insisted it has enough evidence against the abbot and is urging investigators to trace the temple’s earnings, estimated to be more than Bt100 million annually.
Earlier, Saiyut Pengbunchu, a lawyer for the Wat Pa Luangta Bua Foundation, had said that abbot Phra Vissuthisaradhera or Luang Ta Chan, would speak to the media yesterday. But the press meet was cancelled after the monk suddenly suffered an acute heart attack.
Siri Wangbunkerd, a temple follower and former Bangkok MP, spoke to the press on behalf of the abbot and denied all allegations against the temple and Luang Ta Chan.
“The abbot knew nothing about the products from tigers or the remains of tiger cubs. These products were secretly produced by temple personnel who smuggled in the remains of dead tigers behind the abbot’s back,” Siri said. “The person involved decided to hide these items in the abbot’s room because he thought the officials would not check this room, as a result now it looks like the abbot himself was involved in this activity.”
He also said that the pickled tiger cubs were to be used for scientific research purposes and were to be displayed in the temple’s museum. They were certainly not for sale, he said. He also claimed that the DNP raid stemmed from conflict of interest, which involved DNP deputy director-general Adisorn Noochdumrong.
Adisorn said the DNP will inspect all tiger farms in Thailand for possible involvement in the trafficking.
He also said the temple’s financial transactions would be tracked.