As part of a continued effort to combat financial crimes and sexual misconduct among monks, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) and the Anti-Corruption Division (ACD) have teamed up with the National Office of Buddhism (NOB). This partnership comes in the wake of recent allegations against Phra Vajirayankosol, Wat Pah Dhammakhiri’s founder, and Phra Maha Wuthima Thaomor, its abbot. Both officials were stripped of their titles and defrocked for allegedly stealing roughly 300 million baht from temple funds and engaging in sexual relations.
Once revered monks, Khom Khonggaew and Wuthima Thaomor are now imprisoned laymen, arrested since May 8th. An astounding 130 million baht of stolen temple funds have been found in Mr. Khom’s bank account, with 51 million baht in cash discovered at the home of his sister, Jutatip Pubodeewachorupan, who faces arrest as well.
This seizure and subsequent police investigation have drawn significant public attention, prompting the ACD to collaborate with the NOB to receive and investigate complaints regarding corruption in temples. Many temples have sizable donations that require inspection, and CIB commissioner Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop Bhuridej believes the arrest of Phra Ajarn Khom Apiwaro could lead to further embezzlement investigations at other institutions.
For transparent financial management and to avoid allegations of fraud by temple executive committees, monks and abbots should regularly account for donation money. Pol Lt Gen Jiraphob shared that the NOB requested the police to examine Mr. Khom’s role as president of Wat Pah Dhammakhiri as they suspected his involvement in the eventful embezzlement of the temple’s donation money. Both Mr. Khom and Mr. Wuthima were suspected of misappropriating the temple’s funds for personal use.
Police investigations revealed that Mr. Khom asked the abbot of Wat Pa Dhammakhiri to deliver cash to his sister so she could deposit it into their bank account. Additionally, the now-defrocked monk confessed to engaging in sexual activity within the temple’s cloister, breaching monks’ disciplinary rules. Willingly defrocking and turning himself in due to these offenses, Mr. Khom’s story is far from unique.
On May 9, another six suspects consisting of a driver and five defrocked monks from Wat Pa Dhammakhiri were arrested for their alleged involvement in the same 300-million-baht embezzlement scandal. These suspects were identified as Boonsong Phanphuwong, Bundit Yoicha, Natthapat Tangjaisanong, Boonluea Pothong, Thanakrit Yotsurin, and driver Boonsak Pattarakosol. They are believed to have concealed approximately 76 million baht in cash and various valuables such as gold bars and bullion worth around 100 million baht within the forest temple’s compound.
All six men face charges of embezzlement, aiding in embezzlement, and receiving stolen goods. The Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases has denied their bail requests, as they are deemed flight risks. The amount of seized assets and cash is substantial, with the suspects causing significant damage. Moreover, there are concerns that evidence and witnesses could be tampered with if bail were granted.
“The case is not complicated because the suspects’ intention was obvious. If they had not meant to misappropriate the temple’s donation money, they would not have transferred it to Ms. Jutatip’s account. The money should have remained in the temple’s accounts as the donors wished,” Pol Lt Gen Jiraphob said. He added that Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat Pankaew, the ACD commander, has been assigned to cooperate with the NOB to investigate temples suspected of embezzling donation funds.
The CIB will act as a liaison between the NOB and the ACD to conduct these investigations, as the NOB may have valuable information but lacks investigative personnel. The case of Mr. Khom, once a Buddhist prodigy, serves as a stark reminder that corruption can plague even the most renowned temples, necessitating an overhaul of how financial affairs are managed and monitored within these institutions. As more temples compete to erect grander Buddha images and structures to attract devotees, it is crucial to implement widespread reforms to prevent the commercialization of Buddhism and ensure the integrity of the faith remains intact.