A famed Bangkok temple was at the centre of a billowing embezzlement scandal Thursday after $4 million was found in bank accounts belonging to its abbot, the latest graft allegations to dog Thailand’s scandal-mired clergy.
Two monks at Wat Saket, better known to the visiting tourist hordes as “Golden Mount”, were taken for questioning by police accused of roles in siphoning off temple funds.
An arrest warrant was issued for the abbot, Phra Promprasit, according to police.
“We are looking for the abbot… we found that he has 10 bank accounts in his name with a total 130 million baht,” Major-General Maitri Chimcherd, commander of the Crime Suppression Division, told reporters.
“He was last seen yesterday evening inside the temple,” he said, adding the accounts had been frozen.
Monks at two other prominent Bangkok temples are also under scrutiny in investigations into whether millions of dollars of funds allocated by the National Office of Buddhism for temple upkeep and pastoral work have been embezzled.
Investigations into senior clergy are incredibly sensitive in the overwhelmingly-Buddhist nation.
All Thai men are expected by social convention to spend time in orange robes, monks are revered and powerful temples have large followings.
Yet negative publicity trails the clergy, with recent extortion, sex, drugs and murder scandals involving monks shocking the Thai public.
“Police will work carefully on this issue because it is sensitive,” Lieutenant-General Thitirat Nongharnpitak, commander of the Central Investigation Bureau, said.
The issue of temple finances and fugitive monks has triggered reminders of a bigger scandal that enveloped a super-rich Buddhist sect known as the Dhammakaya last year.
Police spent months searching the temple’s 400 hectare (1,000 acre) grounds in Bangkok’s suburbs for its abbot Phra Dhammachayo, who remains at large.
He is accused of colluding in a $33 million embezzlement.
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