Police add 3 accomplices to monk hunt

2 Thais, Lao woman aided abbots' escape

These monks and aides to wanted abbots are in custody but two top abbots in the greatest crackdown even on crooked temples are on the run. (Post Today photo)

Police are hunting two Thais and one Lao national who are believed to have helped two senior monks flee as they were being sought in connection with a temple fund embezzlement scandal.

The three suspects -- a Thai man, a Thai woman and another woman from Laos -- assisted the abbot of Bangkok's Wat Sa Ket (Golden Mount), Phra Phrom Sitthi, and Phra Phrom Methi, the assistant abbot of Wat Samphanthawong, to escape before officers raided the two temples last Thursday, a source in the Crime Suppression Division claimed.

Officers came armed with arrest warrants for both monks.

Shortly after they made their escape the three wanted women vanished from their living quarters and have not been heard from since, according to those who know them, the source added.

Investigators have alerted the Immigration Bureau and if any of the suspects is found attempting to leave the country, authorities now have the authority to detain them without a warrant, the source said.

Both Phra Phrom Sitthi and Phra Phrom Methi are believed to be hiding in Bangkok with the help of their followers, another well-informed source said.

Meanwhile, police arrested five senior monks in predawn raids on three temples that same Thursday .

At Wat Sa Ket, they arrested three assistant abbots but Phra Phrom Sitthi could not be found.

At Wat Sam Phraya, they took Phra Phrom Dilok and his secretary Phra Atthakit Sophon into custody. At Wat Samphanthawong in the Yaowarat (Chinatown) area of Bangkok they could not locate assistant abbot Phra Phrom Methi, who also had a warrant out in his name.

The same source said investigators were gathering evidence to back more charges of money laundering that will be laid against the senior monks.

A source at the police force's Counter Corruption Division (CCD) said on Sunday the CCD has finished probing 40 temples, 30 of which were suspected of being involved in the embezzlement scheme.

Losses are estimated at more than 102 million baht, the source said.

The source said investigators are being instructed to widen their probe to cover other irregularities detected at a number of temples implicated in the scandal.

In situations where temple properties or land plots affiliated with monasteries has been leased, investigators are being advised to track all related financial transactions to determine whether the rent was paid to the correct bank accounts belonging to the temples, the source said.

Some officers expect the trail may lead to the personal bank accounts of specific monks, the source added.

After investigators found a number of land title deeds during last Thursday's raid at Wat Sam Phraya, Phra Phrom Dilok may face additional charges if sufficient evidence is found proving that he was involved in unauthorised mortgaging and lending services, said the same source.

In light of his seniority, Phra Phrom Dilok is considered a state official. If it can be proven that he was involved in providing such financial services, his actions could be deemed a violation of Section 157 of the Criminal Code, which concerns dereliction of duty.

In another development, Phra Tham Suthi, who has been serving as the first deputy of the Sangha ecclesiastical chief of Bangkok, was appointed acting chief of the sect, according to another source.

The move came following the detention of Phra Phrom Dilok.

Phram Tham Suthi, 75, currently serves as the abbot of Wat Hua Lamphong in Bang Rak district.

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