UCA News

Thailand

Ex-Buddhism chief gets 94 years for fraud in Thailand

Monks were also involved in embezzlement of funds allocated to temples

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Updated: May 21, 2020 05:54 AM GMT
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Ex-Buddhism chief gets 94 years for fraud in Thailand

Buddhist monks wearing face masks take their places for prayers inside Bowonniwet Vihara temple on Visaka Bucha Day in Bangkok on May 6. (Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)

Share this article :
A former head of Thailand’s National Office of Buddhism has seen his prison sentence increased to 94 years over charges of embezzling large sums of money earmarked for several Buddhist temples.

Phanom Sornsilp, 64, was slapped on May 19 with an additional sentence of 52 years and eight months by the Central Criminal Court for Corruption and Misconduct Cases after he had been found guilty of further cases of embezzlement that date back to 2014 and 2015.

In a previous ruling, the National Anti-Corruption Commission found that Phanom and another former head of the National Office of Buddhism (NOB) had embezzled the bulk of the funds allocated to prominent provincial temples with the help of accomplices.  

In the latest ruling, Phanom and his accomplices have been found guilty of embezzling 50 million baht (US$1.6 million) from funds allocated by the Buddhism office to another three temples.

All the accused denied the charges in a scandal that dates back to 2017 when investigators first uncovered large-scale corruption under the aegis of the NOB.

During a raid on Phanom’s home in 2018, authorities found signs of what they called “unusual wealth.”

His family’s assets amounted to more than 216 million baht, including over 163 million baht held in 16 bank deposits, nine cars, gold bars, several plots of land, two houses and three apartments.

According to investigators, Phanom and several other senior officials engaged in a years-long kickback scheme whereby they allocated large sums of money as state subsidies to temples on condition that most of the money was then returned to them.

Senior monks could also benefit from the arrangement financially. As many as 30 temples were involved in the scheme, which led to the embezzlement of some 300 million baht, investigators said.

“During their terms at the helm of the NOB, some temples were asked to return most of the state subsidies disbursed to them,” Omsin Chiwaphruek, a senior government official, explained at the time. “It’s like if a temple gets 2 million baht for renovation, it’s told to return 1.3 million baht.”

Several senior Buddhist monks were found to have participated willingly in the scheme, which caused a scandal in Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist nation where monks, especially senior clergymen, are widely revered.

In May 2018, three members of the Sangha Council were charged with fraud and money laundering after they had been found to have siphoned off state funds to private accounts.

By law monks in Thailand cannot be imprisoned, so the senior monks were stripped of their clerical status and titles so that they could be detained without bail and sentenced.

Over the years numerous prominent Buddhist monks and senior Buddhist officials have become embroiled in corruption scandals. Senior monks have been accused of embezzling either state funds or private donations to their temples, or both.

The venality of these Buddhist clergymen has tarnished the image of the Sangha, or community of monks, in the eyes of many believers in Thailand, according to observers.

“The reality is that these supposedly holy men may not be as holy as many would like to believe,” said Pravit Rojanaphruk, a prominent journalist and commentator.

“This means the government and religious authorities will have to work harder to ensure that state funds for temples are not embezzled.” 

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
YOUR DAILY
NEWSLETTER
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
 
Support UCA News

William J. Grimm, MM

Publisher

Union of Catholic Asian News

"As Pope Francis has said, we live not so much in an era of change as in a change of era. That is especially true in Asia and for the churches of Asia. UCA News is the dedicated, Asia-wide news and information service for the Church in Asia and we need your help to maintain the service."