The Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) is collaborating with the Anti-Corruption Division (ACD) and the National Office of Buddhism (NOB) to tackle financial crimes and sexual misconduct within Buddhist temples.
The recent high-profile case involving Wat Pah Dhammakhiri and its founder, Phra Vajirayankosol, and abbot, Phra Maha Wuthima Thaomor, who were defrocked for allegedly stealing 300 million baht from temple funds and engaging in sexual misconduct, has sparked public attention. Both individuals, now laymen, have been under arrest since May 8th.
Recovered Stolen Funds
Police found 130 million baht from the stolen temple funds in Khom Khonggaew’s bank account, and 51 million baht in cash at his sister’s house, Jutatip Pubodeewachorupan, who is also under arrest.
Inspecting Temple Donations
The ACD has partnered with the NOB to receive and investigate complaints of corruption in temples. Many temples receive sizable donations that need to be inspected to ensure proper use.
Potential Leads to Further Investigations
CIB commissioner Pol Lt Gen Jiraphob Puridej believes the arrest of Phra Ajarn Khom Apiwaro could lead to other embezzlement investigations at different temples. Monks and abbots should regularly account for donations, or their financial management could be seen as fraudulent by temple executive committees.
Investigations and Coordination
Pol Maj Gen Jaroonkiat Pankaew, commander of the ACD, has been assigned to work with the NOB to probe temples where monks are suspected of embezzling donation money. The CIB will coordinate between the two agencies to conduct the investigation.
Concerns of Corruption and Commercialization
Buddhist scholar Jaturong Jongarsa commented that famous temples are likely to face corruption by insiders. He suggested that the Sangha Supreme Council should decentralize its authority to help tackle such corruption problems. There are concerns of commercialization of Buddhism, as many temples compete to build larger Buddha images or buildings to attract more followers, which in turn leads to more donations and potentially more corruption.
Jaturong recommends the Sangha Supreme Council and the Department of Religious Affairs review their policies and become more proactive in investigating temples’ financial affairs to counter corruption and preserve the integrity of Buddhism.