‘Jet-set monk’ is back in Thai­land af­ter ex­tra­di­tion from US

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - International Business -

A FORMER monk known for a jet­set­ting life­style was back in Thai­land on Thurs­day af­ter he was ex­tra­dited from the United States, where he fled to es­cape charges in­clud­ing statu­tory rape and fraud.

Wi­rapol Sukphol, 37, ap­peared on a Youtube video show­ing the or­ange-robed monk aboard a pri­vate jet. He wore avi­a­tor sun­glasses and had a Louis Vuit­ton carry-on bag, spark­ing an out­cry over his be­hav­ior.

Soon af­ter the video sur­faced in 2013, Wi­rapol was de­frocked amid ac­cu­sa­tions of mul­ti­ple sex­ual re­la­tion­ships with women – a car­di­nal sin for monks.

He was also al­leged to have had sex with a 14-year-old girl. The statute of lim­i­ta­tions has ex­pired in that case, but he still faces fraud, money laun­der­ing and other charges.

He was ar­rested in Cal­i­for­nia last year.

Wi­rapol re­turned to Bangkok late Wed­nes­day un­der an ex­tra­di­tion agree­ment with the United States. Ac­cord­ing to Paisit Wong­muang, di­rec­tor-gen­eral of Thai­land’s Depart­ment of Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion, Wi­rapol “wanted to come back to Thai­land and was ready to en­ter the jus­tice sys­tem.”

Crit­ics say Wi­rapol is an ex­treme ex­am­ple of a wider cri­sis in Thai Bud­dhism, which has be­come marginalised by a short­age of monks and an in­creas­ingly sec­u­lar so­ci­ety.

Born in the poor north­east­ern province of Ubon Ratchathani, Wi­rapol en­tered the monk­hood as a teenager and gained lo­cal renown for claims of su­per­nat­u­ral pow­ers. Grad­u­ally, he cul­ti­vated wealthy fol­low­ers to help fund ex­pen­sive projects in the name of Bud­dhism, in­clud­ing erect­ing an 18-me­tre-high Bud­dha statue.

Thai­land’s Anti-money Laun­der­ing Of­fice has dis­cov­ered 41 bank ac­counts linked to Wi­rapol. Sev­eral of the ac­counts kept about 200 mil­lion baht (US$5.9 mil­lion/k8.02 bil­lion) in con­stant cir­cu­la­tion, rais­ing sus­pi­cion of money laun­der­ing, the of­fice said.

Ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion, Wi­rapol at one point had ac­cu­mu­lated as­sets of an es­ti­mated 1 bil­lion baht ($32 mil­lion). Dur­ing a shop­ping spree from 2009 to 2011, Wi­rapol bought 22 Mercedes cars worth 95 mil­lion baht ($2.8 mil­lion), the depart­ment said.

– As­so­ci­ated Press THE Philip­pine pres­i­dent says the lead­er­ship of the Is­lamic State-linked mil­i­tants who have laid siege to a south­ern city re­mains largely in­tact de­spite nearly two months of mil­i­tary ac­tion and has funded di­ver­sion­ary at­tacks on other cities in the re­gion.

Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte said in a let­ter to Congress that even though troops have re­gained con­trol of much of Marawi city and killed hun­dreds of mil­i­tants, “the re­bel­lion per­sists and a lot more re­mains to be done to com­pletely quell the same.”

The seven-page let­ter, a copy of which was seen by re­porters Thurs­day, aims to con­vince law­mak­ers to ex­tend Duterte’s 60-day dec­la­ra­tion of mar­tial law in the south un­til the end of the year. The state­ments in the let­ter ap­pear to dif­fer from his as­sur­ance last week that the Marawi cri­sis, the most se­ri­ous he has faced so far, could end in 10 to 15 days.

In a sep­a­rate re­port to the Sen­ate, the mil­i­tary said the at­tack­ers’ main leader, Is­nilon Hapi­lon, “al­lowed the es­cape of 96 young re­cruits fight­ing in Marawi and in­structed them to con­tinue ji­had out­side Marawi.” Ji­had is an Ara­bic word that mil­i­tants use to re­fer to “holy war.”

Wav­ing IS group-style black flags, the heav­ily armed fight­ers stormed into Marawi, a cen­ter of Is­lamic faith in the south of the pre­dom­i­nantly Ro­man Catholic na­tion, on May 23, oc­cu­py­ing build­ings, houses and mosques and tak­ing hostages. Sev­eral for­eign fight­ers, in­clud­ing 20 In­done­sians and a Malaysian fi­nancier known as Mah­mud bin Ah­mad, joined the in­sur­rec­tion, the pres­i­dent said.

Of­fi­cials say at least 565 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 421 mil­i­tants and 99 sol­diers and po­lice­men, have been killed in the worst ur­ban up­ris­ing by Mus­lim mil­i­tants in the volatile south in decades. Nearly half a mil­lion res­i­dents have been dis­placed in Marawi and out­ly­ing towns by the fight­ing.

Duterte wrote in his let­ter that the lead­er­ship of the Marawi siege “largely re­mains in­tact de­spite the con­sid­er­able de­cline in the num­ber of rebels fight­ing in the main bat­tle area.” Other rad­i­cal armed bands “are ready to re­in­force Is­nilon Hapi­lon’s group or launch di­ver­sion­ary at­tacks and sim­i­lar up­ris­ings else­where,” he said.

In­tel­li­gence re­ports that Hapi­lon sent funds and or­dered al­lied mil­i­tants to launch at­tacks in key cities across the south have been val­i­dated, he said.

The at­tack­ers’ last­ing power and large arse­nal of weapons have sur­prised Duterte and his top se­cu­rity of­fi­cials, who ac­knowl­edged they un­der­es­ti­mated the com­bat strength of the mil­i­tants and their prepa­ra­tions, in­clud­ing the stock­pil­ing of as­sault firearms in lake­side Marawi. Troops long used to fight­ing in­sur­gents in the jun­gles have strug­gled to rout the gun­men from Marawi’s dense ur­ban sprawl. – As­so­ci­ated Press

is mar­ried to

Fugi­tive ex-monk Wi­rapol Sukphol is es­corted by Depart­ment of Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion of­fi­cials to the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice in Bangkok, Thai­land, on Thurs­day. Photo: AP

A Filipino ac­tivist protests Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s pro­posed ex­ten­sion of mar­tial law on Min­danao Is­land, near Mala­canang Pres­i­den­tial Palace in Manila, Philip­pines, on Thurs­day. Photo: AP

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