Thailand’s top tax collector said Sunday an American-born Thai “life coach” accused of misappropriating 875,000 baht he collected for Chiang Mai firefighters must report all his income and expenditures.
In what surely will be the first of many legal problems for 29-year-old Sean Buranahiran, who had collected 4 million followers on Facebook and YouTube by posting “inspirational” posts and videos, Revenue Department Director-General Ekniti Nitithanprapas said today he wants to see who donated to Buranahiran’s cause and how every baht was spent.
Buranahiran – who was born and raised in America before relocating to Thailand where he created an online purveyor of saccharine greeting card memes – In late March began soliciting donations to help underfunded Chiang Mai firefighters battling fires intentionally set by farmers clearing their fields and causing choking haze across the North.
In just more than a month he collected 875,000 baht. But fire volunteers and local officials in Chiang Mai’s Hang Dong District said they never received any of the money and never even met Buranahiran. Several villagers in Ban Pong Subdistrict said Sunday that they had met some genuine Thai celebrities there to help firefighters, but are uncertain if they were associated with the transplanted American.
When the news became scandal last week, the “net idol” lost 1.1 million followers nearly overnight.
Buranahiran said in a Friday post on his Facebook page that he’d spent lots of time and money educating himself and others about the burning-fields and air pollution problem. But he admitted he also bought 254,000 baht in Facebook ads to promote the “educational” posts on his own Facebook page, dramatically swelling its popularity.
And, while fans thought they were helping firefighters, Buranahiran said he also spent a huge chunk of their cash on other projects, including a children’s charity, agricultural training for hill tribes and Covid-19 pandemic issues.
Ekniti said Buranahiran must submit documents to the Revenue Department detailing each donation and all expenditures, including receipts and explanations for them. If not, he will be slapped with a massive taxi bill and possible criminal charges.
The director-general said he’s familiar with Buranahiran and knows the social-media influencer knows what’s required to run a tax-exempt charity campaign, as he previously raised money to help people affected by flooding.
But, so far, the department has seen nothing from Buranahiran. Ekniti said the American would be given time to voluntarily file the required paperwork, but, if he doesn’t, he will be audited.