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Chanthaburi Monk Arrested for ฿17 Million Embezzlement

Police show their arrest warrant to Phra Khru Suthitarakapirak, the abbot of Wat Suthiwari in Chanthaburi's Muang district, center, at the temple. He is accused in the embezzlement of 17 million baht allocated to the Chanthaburi Buddha Monthon Foundation. (Photo supplied)
Police show their arrest warrant to Phra Khru Suthitarakapirak, the abbot of Wat Suthiwari in Chanthaburi's Muang district, center, at the temple. He is accused in the embezzlement of 17 million baht allocated to the Chanthaburi Buddha Monthon Foundation. (Photo supplied)

A prominent Buddhist monk was arrested on charges he played a major part in embezzling 17 million baht earmarked for a Buddhist charity.

Phra Khru Suthitarakapirak, who served as the abbot of Wat Suthiwari in Chanthaburi Province has been charged with working in cahoots with several senior local officials in embezzling funds from the Chanthaburi Buddha Monthon Foundation.

According to police, some officials and the senior clergyman pocketed the money after falsifying the true cost of a newly constructed building for the charity.

The arrest of the monk is the latest in a series of criminal cases, including the embezzlement of temple funds, that have involved monks and tarnished the image of the Buddhist clergy in the Southeast Asian nation where monks are held in high esteem.

Last year Phanom Sornsilp, a former head of the country’s National Office of Buddhism, was sentenced to 94 years in prison after being convicted of embezzling money from funds allocated to 30 Buddhist temples.

Phanom’s accomplices included several senior monks who also benefited financially from a scheme that saw some 300 million baht ($9 million) embezzled from temple funds over several years, according to police.

“While this national scandal exposed power abuse in the top echelons of religious affairs regulators and misappropriation of funds by senior monks, temple donation corruption is common across the country,” said Thanthip Srisuwannaket, a researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute.

Some Buddhists nuns, too, have been charged with embezzling donations from worshippers.

Earlier this year three nuns were arrested and charged with defrauding several hundred locals via a pyramid scheme-like investment scam they operated at a meditation center near Bangkok.

The Buddhist clergywomen had encouraged hundreds of people to invest in a scheme by promising them high returns. Instead of delivering on the promised returns, however, the three nuns pocketed at least 10 million baht, according to police.

With corruption soaring in predominantly Buddhist Thailand, the country’s temples are “facing a serious erosion of public faith due to rife corruption in the closed, non-transparent clergy,” according to Thanthip.

In order to combat the scourge of corruption, the expert has called for greater financial transparency at Thailand’s 41,000 Buddhist temples where state-allocated funds and private donations are often spent in opaque ways.

“If corruption corrodes religious faith, financial transparency is the cure,” Thanthip said in a statement published by Thailand Development Research Institute, adding that Buddhist temples should use professional accountants and “open the closed, top-down system to external auditing and monitoring.”

“When this happens, restoring public trust and faith will be within arm’s reach,” she said.

The original version of this story was published in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.