Facing possible jail time, an American-Thai “life coach” accused of misappropriating 875,000 baht in donations for Chiang Mai firefighters has fled Thailand, police said.
Provincial Police Region 5 in Thailand’s North said it had summoned Sean Buranahiran, 29, to acknowledge charges he misspent money raised through a self-promoting Facebook advertising campaign that was supposed to go to benefit firefighting volunteers battling the plague of fires set by farmers across the region.
The volunteer foundation, however, said they never received even a single baht.
After a backlash that saw his 4 million-strong band of Facebook fans drop to under 3 million, Buranahiran explained where the money went, saying he spent 254,000 baht to advertise posts on his own page abou the fires and the air pollution they cause. But he said he also spent large chunks of the cash on unrelated causes, such as a children’s charity, hill tribe agricultural training and Covid-19 health promotion.
Public officials soon came forward to claim Buranahiran had broken tax and fundraising laws by not registering his charity campaign under Fundraising Control of 1944 and not submitting donation and spending records to the Revenue Department. A review of the expenses he released showed he owned many of the companies that he billed.
On July 1, activist Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution, filed a police complaint alleging that Buranahiran – who was born and raised in the United States before relocating to Thailand to become an online inspiration “life coach” – also violated the Computer Crime Act with his internet “scam”.
Region 5 police said Buranahiran’s phone had been turned off and he had gone quiet on Facebook. He is believed to have escaped over the border to Cambodia, likely to make his way back to his native America.
Jail, as it turns out, in his book “51 Weapons of The Wise”, Buranahiran said he was bullied relentlessly as a child to the point he bulked up and learned martial arts, then started putting beat-downs on his oppressors. He ended up being convicted with assault and sent to prison.
After serving his time, Buranahiran said he wanted to change and develop his mind, not body. So he said he dedicated himself t”o learning from the great philosophers” and came to Thailand and began posting his greeting-card wisdom about life, love and philosophy on Facebook and YouTube.
Even before the fundraising scandal, however, Buranahiran ran into trouble with fans when he posted a video featuring Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon who he called “kind of sweet” and claimed the media distorted the former general in the 2014 military coup.