Police have told the former chief of the National Buddhism Office (NBO), Nopparat Benjawatananan, a fugitive suspect in the alleged embezzlement of more than Bt200 million from state subsidies for temples in recent years, to report himself to police or face an arrest warrant.
A summons has been issued for Nopparat to hear the charge of money-laundering.
Nopparat, who served as NBO chief from 2010 to 2014 and is believed to have fled with his family to another country a year ago, reportedly returned to Thailand in July to meet a doctor, said Royal Thai Police Counter Corruption Division (CCD) commander Pol Maj-General Kamol Rienracha.
A doctor’s appointment slip was found during a search on Wednesday of a house in Bangkok’s Taling Chan district linked to Nopparat’s wife Pattaranan Benjawatananan.
The house, which is believed to have been bought with embezzled money, was registered in Pattaranan’s daughter’s name when it was bought with Bt49 million in cash in 2013. The daughter was 20 years old at the time.
Kamol made the comments after a meeting on Thursday with NBO chief Pongporn Pramsaneh and Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) officers to discuss about the embezzlement case and guidelines for effective practice.
The three agencies are working on three elements of NBO-related corruption. There was an alleged Bt62-million embezzlement between 2012 and 2016 involving subsidies to repair 12 temples; an alleged Bt141-million embezzlement between 2012 and 2017 involving three subsidies, including funds designated for 23 Phrapariyatidhamma schools; and another case that occurred before fiscal year 2007. Action is expected in the last case soon.
Kamol said that having the NBO participate in the investigation would not compromise the police work and NBO officials would not intervene to tamper or destroy evidence, because he believed in Pongporn.
In addition to Nopparat, the first case involves three NBO officials, four lay citizens and one monk – all of whom were summoned to report to the CCD by Thursday.
Only one NBO official, Natthawadee Tantayawisarnsut, showed up before the deadline to hear the charges, a police source said. She maintained her innocence, but police were confident they had enough evidence against all nine suspects, the source said.