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Officials caught in temple graft sting

BANGKOK: The police Counter-Corruption Division (CCD) will forward a case involving four state officials suspected to have embezzled B60 million in temple maintenance funds to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) this week.

By Bangkok Post

Monday 12 June 2017, 09:08AM

Insiders at the National Office of Buddhism at Phuttha Monthon (above) are allegedly involved in corruption involving B60 million at 12 temples. Photo: via Google Maps

Insiders at the National Office of Buddhism at Phuttha Monthon (above) are allegedly involved in corruption involving B60 million at 12 temples. Photo: via Google Maps

CCD chief Kamol Reanracha said four National Office of Buddhism (NOB) officials have been charged with corruption in office while four civilians allegedly embroiled in the case have been charged with aiding and abetting crime.

The four officials had reported to answer the charge but the four civilian suspects have not shown up, Maj Gen Kamol said.

The officials had been released because the CCD, an agency under the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), will have to submit an investigation report to the NACC first.

If the anti-graft agency finds there are grounds to the charge, it will send the report back to the prosecution or the CCD for action.

By that time, the officials will have been summoned again and placed in police custody, Maj Gen Kamol said, adding the suspects have the right to seek bail.

NOB director Pongporn Pramsaneh said yesterday (June 11) that he will meet Prime Minister’s Office Minister Ormsin Chivapruck, who oversees the NOB, today (June 12) to report details of the case and will seek the government guidelines on the matter.

The NOB will wait for the NACC’s decision on the case, Lt Gen Pongporn said, adding that any NOB officials found guilty will face disciplinary action.

A police source said the four state officials include a former director-general of the NOB and two officials from that office.

According to Maj Gen Kamol, 12 temples nationwide are suspected of involvement in embezzlement of maintenance funds worth B60mn dispensed by the NOB.

Of the 12 temples, six are in the North, three in the Northeast, two in the Central Plains region and one in the South.

An investigation was conducted based on an examination of the state budget dispensed to temples across the country during 2012-2016. A raid was launched last Wednesday (June 7) as part of the government’s first operation to suppress corruption in temples.

A house in Sakon Nakhon’s Phanna Nikhom district, another in Nakhon Pathom’s Buddha Monthon district, and the other in Samut Prakan’s Muang district were targeted.

The three houses belong to people in the networks allegedly involved in the embezzlement scandal.

In 2015, the Office of the Auditor-General tipped off the CCD that it had uncovered corruption at one temple in Phetchaburi.

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State officials allegedly pocketed part of maintenance funds allocated to the temple by the NOB.

However, the CCD at that time failed to arrest them as the accused had been alerted to the operation and did not appear at the temple.

The CCD later widened the probe and found several other temples nationwide committed similar malpractices, resulting in the latest raid.

Maj Gen Kamol said the investigation was launched into four networks allegedly involved in the embezzlement scandal.

The first group in in the North, Central and South and the second network is based in the North.

The other two networks operate in the Central and Northeastern regions.

The CCD will not take legal action against monks allegedly embroiled in the case as investigators considered them victims of the fraud.

Instead they will be treated as witnesses, Maj Gen Kamol said.

Col Wiwat Chaisangkha, a CCD deputy chief, said investigators have detected alleged irregularities in the transfer of money from the maintenance funds to temples’ bank accounts.

After the money was transferred, temples had to return up to 80% of the money to the embezzlement gang. The money returned was referred to as “change”, Col Wiwat said.

For example, if B1mn was transferred to a temple, the temple had to give B800,000 in “change” back to the gang, while the temple actually received only B200,000, Col Wiwat said. It is not clear how they were able to compel the temples to hand over the money.

A source said the NOB allocates between B400mn-500mn for maintenance of temples nationwide annually.

Read original story here.



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