BANGKOK – Thailand’s Office of the Attorney-General has asked US officials to extradite fugitive jet-setting monk Wirapol Sukphol even though he claims to have been granted refugee status, deputy chief of the Department Special of Investigation said Wednesday.
Pol Lt Pong-in Intharakhao told reporters that the Office of the Attorney-General had sent an extradition request to US authorities at the DSI’s request and the plea was pending consideration.
There has been no indication from US officials about whether the defrocked monk has been granted refugee status, and Pol Lt Pong-in did not say when the extradition request was made.
He said the DSI had taken all the mandatory legal steps to bring Mr Wirapol, better known Luang Pu Nen Kham, to Thailand, but it would be up to the US officials to decide.
Mr Wirapol recently gave an interview with exiled anti-coup Thai journalist Jom Petchpradub in which he claimed he had officially received refugee status in the United States.
If true, the extradition request will be denied.
In 2013, Mr Wirapol gained notoriety following the release of video footage showed him travelling aboard a luxury private jet while still a monk. He also was carrying a Louis Vuitton bag, wearing brand-name bag and owned more than 100 luxury cars and a large number of land holdings
Afterward, the former abbot of Khantitham monastery in Si Sa Ket province was indicted on five criminal and civil charges including separating a minor from her guardians, having sex with a minor, public fraud, money laundering and violating Thailand’s Computer Crime Act by posting deceitful information.
The 36-year-old ex-monk fled Thailand in 2013 to avoid arrest taking up residence in the US. He has kept a relatively low profile ever since.
In the interview, he purportedly told Mr Jom he was setting up a new monastery in a California town and would launch a new sect unaffiliated with the Thai Sangha next year.