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Homes raided, arrests made as anti-corruption police swoop in temple funds scandal

NATIONWIDE: Counter-corruption police launched raids on 14 locations in seven provinces as the agency expands its probe into allegations of corruption involving B140 million from a state grant-in-aid scheme for temples across the country.

corruptioncrimereligionpolice
By Bangkok Post

Friday 22 September 2017, 02:32PM


This temple at Lampang is among at least 30 believed to have colluded in embezzlement of up to B140 million allocated for temple construction and upkeep. Photo: Aswin Wongnorkaew / Bangkok Post

This temple at Lampang is among at least 30 believed to have colluded in embezzlement of up to B140 million allocated for temple construction and upkeep. Photo: Aswin Wongnorkaew / Bangkok Post

Among the targeted locations were houses owned by former National Office of Buddhism (NOB) officials including former NOB director Phanom Sornsilp in Nakhon Pathom’s Sam Phran District.

After the raid, the Counter-Corruption Division (CCD) pressed criminal charges against Phanom and two other NOB officials in connection with the embezzlement of temple funds.

The move came after police found evidence the locations were suspected of having links with the embezzlement.

Armed with a court-approved search warrant, more than 20 CCD officers, along with officers from the Anti-money Laundering Office (Amlo), searched Phanom’s house at 6am on Thursday. Phanom was there and accepted the warrant himself.

CCD Commander Pol Maj Gen Kamol Reanracha said that authorities searched 14 locations in seven provinces – Bangkok, Nonthaburi, Khon Kaen, Ranong, Sing Buri, Nakhon Pathom and Samut Sakhon. Of the 14 locations, the CCD found 13 locations were linked to the temple embezzlement scandal.

 The search of Phanom’s house turned up a set of Buddha amulets, 80 gold bars, and documents relating to stock purchases, Gen Kamol said.

 The CCD will make an inventory of all assets suspected of having links with the scandal and present the list to the Amlo which will consider freezing them, he said.

Gen Kamol added that the CCD has charged Phanom with dereliction of duty in violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code and misappropriation in violation of Section 147 of the same law.

Later in the day, Phanom arrived at the CCD to give further information. He said the charges were pressed against him because he approved a project when he served as NOB director. He will explain himself to the CCD, Phanom added.

Another team of police also searched a house owned by Nopparat Benjawattananant, another former NOB director, in Nonthaburi’s Bang Bua Thong District. He is among suspects in the first of 12 embezzlement cases involving temple funds that are being handled by the CCD. The search found a safe containing about B170,000 in cash, some jewellery and travel documents.

Also in Bang Bua Thong, a team of 10 police officers searched a house owned by Pranee Chaemcharoen, Nopparat’s mother-in-law. Police found a safe containing some B170,000 in cash, 10 cut gems and a passport. Police seized the items as evidence.

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“This is the second round of an investigation into corruption involving temple maintenance funds. A total of 23 temples were adversely affected by the actions of NOB officials and a total of 19 people are suspected of wrongdoing,” the CCD commander said.

Of the 19 suspects, 13 are former and serving NOB officials, two civilians and four monks, he said. This time, a budget of about B180mn had been allocated, but about B140mn had been embezzled, Gen Kamol said.

Narongdet Chainate, the director of the NOB’s Sing Buri provincial branch, reported to the CCD for questioning after police searched a hotel room where he stayed in Sing Buri.

Gen Kamol said Narongdet is also another suspect in the temple funds scandal and the CCD has also charged him with violations of Sections 157 and 147. Narongdet previously served as the chief of the NOB’s division in charge of propagating Buddhism.

Another NOB official who also faces the same charges in connection with the scandal is Pattana Su-ammartmontri, a religious academic attached to the NOB’s Nakhon Pathom branch, Gen Kamol said.

Police raided and searched his house in Sam Phran district at dawn Thursday (Sept 21) and found some B100,000 in cash, documents relating to budget grants for temples in Bangkok and surrounding provinces, and a bank passbook, Gen Kamol said.

Officers from the CCD’s 3rd Division also raided a house in Khon Kaen’s Muang District owned by Narongdet’s wife, Mada Chainate, 36. Police found several bank passbooks and a large amount of money in bank accounts.

Ormsin Chivapruck, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office and who oversees the NOB, said that the Office of the Auditor-General (OAG) wrote to inform him on Sept 13 that the OAG had found the scandal involved about 30 temples, most of them small.

 

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