July 23, 2016 01:00 By PIYANUCH THAMNUKASETCHAI THE 5,523 Viewed
Chance of becoming supreme patriarch could be hit; monk may also face criminal charge in Mercedes case.
THE DEPARTMENT of Special Investigation (DSI) is preparing to press charges against the acting Supreme Patriarch, Somdet Chuang, over alleged tax evasion in relation to a Mercedes-Benz owned by him.
The move could further dent his prospects of becoming the country’s new Supreme Patriarch.
Although the Sangha Supreme Council nominated him for the post of Supreme Patriarch early this year, he is yet to be anointed because of strong opposition to his candidature. Several figures have questioned his suitability for the post, citing his alleged tainted record, including the scandal involving the Mercedes-Benz.
The move by the DSI has upset his supporters, with Phra Methee Dhammacharn yesterday issuing a statement that Buddhist organisations and their allies believe in Somdet Chuang’s innocence and vowed to defend him.
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, meanwhile, insisted that the law must run its course and no one was above the law.
The DSI announced at a press conference yesterday that Somdet Chuang, officially known as Somdet Phra Maha Ratcha Mangkhlachan, was the first and only registered owner of the controversial antique car.
“He has owned the car since its assembly, so he must have known that the vehicle was illegitimately acquired,” said Korrawat Panprapakorn, who heads the DSI’s Bureau of Regional Operations Centre.
The possession of a vehicle on which tax has not been paid in full is punishable with up to three years in jail. The offender will also have to pay the tax plus fines when convicted.
The DSI said Somdet Chuang might also be charged as an accomplice for giving false information to authorities about the registration of the vehicle. Such offences violate the Criminal Code, and carry a jail term and/or fine as punishments.
Korrawat said that once the DSI determines the tax amount it would press formal charges.
Somdet Chuang’s aide maintained that the senior monk had done nothing wrong, as the vehicle was simply given to him and he could not have known how the donor had acquired the vehicle.
PM’s Office Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana yesterday refused to comment on whether the DSI’s latest move would hurt Somdet Chuang’s chance of becoming the Supreme Patriarch.
“We have not yet seen the details. So I can’t provide any answer,” he said.
Somdet Chuang is not the only monk facing DSI probes over ownership of luxury cars. At yesterday’s press conference, the DSI also said Phra Khru Palad Sitthiwat – the abbot of Pai Lom Temple – would be facing charges of tax evasion.
Korrawat said DSI officials had gone to the United States to interrogate persons who were owners of the Panther vehicle that was now in the abbot’s possession.
“We have found that the vehicle changed hands a few times in the US before the abbot bought it from Somchet Khemmatat, the owner of a Thai restaurant there, for about US$30,000,” about Bt1 million, Korrawat said.
The DSI probe found that the monk then had a company disassemble the vehicle and send it to Thailand.
“Documents show the monk is the importer,” Korrawat continued.
He added that a factory in Thailand was then hired to assemble the parts of the luxury vehicle, and after the assembly, the vehicle was registered under the monk’s name.
“So we have convincing evidence that he intended to evade the laws of the land. Thai laws don’t allow the import of a used car. So he might have tried to import his chosen vehicle by disassembling it first,” the senior DSI official said.
If convicted, the monk will |be defrocked and be sentenced to jail and a fine that is up to |four times the official import duty.
“He is both the importer and owner of the vehicle on which tax was evaded,” Korrawat said. “The offences for such import and possession carry a jail term.”