Seven Buddhist monks and two others are being held after they were arrested for allegedly embezzling money and items worth a total of 300 million baht ($8,9 million). The items and money were among the donations made by worshipers to Wat Pa Thammakhiri, a Buddhist monastery in Nakhon Ratchasima province in northeast Thailand.
The theft is believed to date back to 2020 and, according to the Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct, the actions "severely undermined Buddhism". (ABC News)
The case first broke with the arrest of three individuals: a meditation teacher named Khom Kongkaew; the temple's former abbot, Wuttima Thaomor; and the abbot's sister, Juthathip Phutbodhiwarochupan.
The three are said to have hidden money and other donations for years. At the police station, Khom made a phone call during which he asked the monks at the temple to hide the stolen goods, informing the police to conduct a more thorough search. In their search, the police arrested six other suspects, including five former monks and a driver.
According to a local resident, several of the monks, whose quarters were built on a hill behind the temple, were walking around the area suspiciously. The resident said he suspected something was up but didn't tell anyone.
As stated in Singapore The time of the straits newspaper, local villagers also noticed that the temple attracted many wealthy devotees who arrived in expensive cars.
Thai police charged the suspects with abusing their power to embezzle money, supporting officials in abusing their power to embezzle money, and improperly performing or neglecting their duty. Jutthatip Phutbodhiwarochupan was accused of receiving stolen goods from the temple. She was surprised with 120 million baht ($3,8 million) in her bank account as well as 51 million baht ($1,5 million) in cash stashed at her home.
Thai Buddhist officials have previously defrocked Khom Kongkaew based on this incident, as well as earlier allegations of engaging in a sexual relationship with one of his followers. He had been a popular monk because of his "rhetorical style of preaching", which attracted many people. (The time of the straits)
Thai Buddhism has long been marked by instances of abuse of power and corruption. In 2018, the government made a number of high-profile arrests in what it calls efforts to clean up the sangha. Despite these and other efforts, in 2022 VICE World News reported on the continuing string of cases against the country's Buddhist monks.
"Monks committing crimes are often reported in Thai media, but it's not a recent social trend," said Katewadee Kulabkaew, a Thai Buddhist policy scholar and former visiting scholar at the Institute of Buddhism Studies. Southeast Asia Singapore. “This problem has plagued the Thai Sangha for decades. (Vice World News)
Thailand is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, with 94,5% of the population identifying as Buddhist, according to 2015 census data. Temples in Thailand rely heavily on donations from lay people to support their work spreading the teachings of Buddhism. . In turn, the laity believe that they can acquire "merits" which can provide tangible benefits in this life as well as favorable rebirths. Along with Buddhism in Thailand, Islam and Christianity are the two main minority religions, with 4,29% and 1,17% of the population respectively.