POLICE ARE examining recordings from a closed-circuit camera at the Sa Ket Temple to determine who had helped temple abbot Phra Phromsitti (Thongchai Sukhayano) flee.
Phra Phromsitti is among the high-ranking monks wanted for alleged embezzlement of state funds meant for Buddhist monasteries.
While police successfully arrested five senior monks in Bangkok on Thursday, Phra Phromsitti and Samphanthawongsaram Temple’s assistant abbot Phra Phrommedhi managed to elude the police.
“Some parts of the recordings are deleted,” Crime Suppression Division (CSD) commander Pol Maj-General Maitree Chimcherd said in response to reports that a black vehicle seemed to have been waiting for the abbot of Sa Ket Temple before he disappeared. “We will dig deeper.”
More than Bt132 million in Phra Phromsitti’s bank accounts have been frozen.
National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) secretary-general Warawit Sukboon, meanwhile, said the graft-fighting body would hold a meeting on the case against the senior monks next week.
Three of the senior monks sat on the country’s highest body for monastic affairs, the Sangha Supreme Council (SSC), until Thursday. The SSC fired them over the scandal following unprecedented police raid of three large temples in the capital on Thursday morning.
The operation nabbed SSC member and Sam Phraya Temple abbot Phra Phromdilok (Euan Hasadhammo). Later in the day, he was defrocked and sent to jail over embezzlement-related charges in line with those against the four other arrested monks.
The five former monks, who have all denied any wrongdoing, are now being detained at the Bangkok Remand Prison.
Officials there said the ex-monks had difficulty sleeping on their first night in jail.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the former monks could fight their case in court.
However, he said, the scandal might have already shaken the Sangha circles and affected the feelings of some Buddhists. Th deputy prime minister believed the scandal called for the stricter screening of who could enter the SSC.
He said the police operation was an effort to remove problems that have plagued Buddhism.
“Authorities need to take action to make the religion purer,” he said.
An informed source said the government had given tacit approval for police to take drastic actions against the senior monks implicated in the temple-fund scandal, as it had a policy to clean up the Sangha circles.
It is an open secret that high-ranking monks have wielded huge influence and abbots of some big temples have huge assets under their care.
The Sa Ket Temple, widely known as the Golden Mount Temple, reportedly has more than Bt1 billion in assets. “Given that Phra Phromsitthi has faced an arrest warrant and gone on the run, preparations are being made for the appointment of an acting abbot,” the source said.
By monastic rules, abbots have the mandate to name the layman manager for their temples, too. There is no limit on the manager’s tenure.
The source said the latest crackdown on alleged temple corruption hit hard at the group of monks who had climbed monastic ranks under the protection of Somdet Phra Buddhacarya (Kiaw Upaseno), a former abbot of Sa Ket Temple who passed away in 2013.
Somdet Phra Buddhacarya used to chair the committee that had carried out work on behalf of the country’s Supreme Patriarch.
Sa Ket Temple’s three assistant abbots Phra Srikunaporn (Boonthavee Khamma), Phra Khru Siriviharnkarn (Somjit Jansri), and Phra Wijitdhammaporn (Terd Yanawachiro) were also arrested and defrocked on Thursday.