Nineteen accused of laundering in temple fund fraud

Pol Maj Gen Kamol Rianracha, commander of the Counter Corruption Division (CCD), speaks to reporters during raids at 14 locations in seven provinces to find evidence of temple fund fraud, on Sept 21. (CCD photo)

The Anti-Money Laundering Office (Amlo) on Wednesday accused 19 people, including four senior monks and 13 officials of the National Office of Buddhism, of laundering 140 million baht allegedly obtained through temple fund embezzlement.

Amlo representatives filed the complaint with the Counter Corruption Division (CCD) in Bangkok in relation to fund embezzlement at 23 Buddhist temples from 2012 to 2017. The alleged fraud involved budgets from the National Office of Buddhism (NOB) for temple renovation and development, and Buddhism promotion and education.

The move followed embezzlement-related searches in September at 14 locations in seven provinces.

CCD commander Pol Maj Gen Kamol Rianracha said his division would summon the 19 people to answer charges, and the Amlo would proceed with the confiscation of suspected assets.

Thirteen of the 19 people were from the NOB. They were former NOB director-general Panom Sornsilp; Narongdet Chainet, NOB’s director in Sing Buri; NOB academics Pattana Su-amatmontree and Nattawadee Tantayawisat; Boonlert Sopa, NOB’s director in Lampang; Pornpen Kittitarangkun, NOB’s director for Buddhism education; Chatchai Chuchuea, NOB’s director for Buddhist places; NOB civil engineer Payong Suealueang; NOB inspector-general Wiroj Oonsap; Kaeo Chittakob, NOB’s director in Samut Songkhram; former NOB director-general Noparat Benjawatana (who fled the country); Wasawat Kittiteerasit, NOB’s director for temple renovation; and NOB deputy director-general Pranom Kongpikul.

The four monks were Phra Racha Ratanamunee of Wat Pichaya Yatikaram in Bangkok; Phra Thep Senabodi, abbot of Wat Kawisararam in Lop Buri province and ecclesiastical chief in the province; Phra Khru Wisutthi Watanakit, assistant abbot of Wat Ratchasitharam in Bangkok; and Phra Khru Kitti Pacharakhun, abbot of Wat Lat Khae in Phetchabun province.

Two other suspects were identified as Siwaroj Piyaratseri and Paithoon Kannamo.

Pol Maj Gen Kamol added that earlier, authorities had charged 10 other people suspected of temple fund fraud worth 60 million baht at 12 temples. The NOB was investigating alleged embezzlement at other temples, he said.

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