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Police Arrest Monk Over US$3.4 Million Theft of Temple Fund

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Police Arrest Monk Over US34 Million Theft of Temple Fund

Police arrested a senior monk on Friday on suspicion of embezzling over US$3.4 million over nine years from temple funds in collusion with a missing former chief of the National Office of Buddhism.

Authorities searched the quarters of Phra Sitthi Woranayok, abbot of Wat Khao Durian in central Thailand’s Nakhon Navok province. The senior monk was also the deputy monastic chief of Nakhon Nayok Province.

The senior monk is accused of embezzling about US$ 3.42 million dollars in development funds intended for local temples. The embezzlement occurred between 2007 and 2016 in a conspiracy involving Nopparat Benjawatananun, a missing former chief of the National Office of Buddhism.

Authorities said the two men had disbursed US$3.8 million baht from government coffers during the 9-year period. The embezzled funds were intended for the development of 12 temples in Nakhon Nayok, including Wat Khao Durian.

After the temples received the funds, the two men had the temple management withdraw most of the funds, leaving the temples with only US$404,000.

It was claimed that the money they kept would be used to fund development projects at other temples.

Police investigation family members

Authorities report that Phra Sitthi Woranayok and Mr. Nopparat instead shared the money and used it to purchase land and other assets. They both purchased three blocks of land, covering about 10 rai, for US$578,000 from landowners close to them. Police deemed the property acquisition a money-laundering operation.

Mr. Nopparat is believed to have fled the country in 2016. In 2017, authorities impounded many assets and documents believed to belong to him after seizing a luxury house thought to belong to him.

Authorities questioned the abbots of the other 11 temples, but only Phra Sitthi Woranayok was charged, according to Pol Col Pitak Warit, superintendent of the Crime Suppression Division (CSD).

In addition, authorities will investigate the land ownership of Phattanan Benjawatananun, the wife of Mr. Nopparat, and Natthaporn Tun, her daughter, for alleged involvement in the crime.

According to Pol Col Pitak, some of the land plots they owned were bought with embezzled funds.

In the past year, the National Anti Corruption Commission (NACC) handled 108 cases involving embezzlement of temple funds, said Sornchai Chuwichian, assistant to the secretary-general of the NACC.

According to him, 42 cases have been wrapped up and are currently being dealt with by police. He added that the cases that surfaced in 2015 alone caused more than US$2.1 million in damages.

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