Lines drawn in Buddhist battle over temple funds
A civil group in Khon Kaen province yesterday asked the prime minister to protect the head of the National Office of Buddhism, who is taking flak from other clergy after seeking legal action against five senior monks over their alleged roles in a temple fund embezzlement scandal.
Led by Tul Prasertsil, the group calling itself Khon Kaen’s civil corruption suppression organisation, submitted an open letter through the NOB’s provincial office to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha calling on him to protect Pol Lt Col Pongporn Phramsane, the director of the NOB.
This was seen as a counter move against the “Chao Phut Phalang Phaendin Group” (Group of Buddhists who are the Power of the Land), which one day earlier urged the premier to fire the NOB chief.
The Chao Phut Phalang Phaendin Group on Tuesday submitted its petition to the police’s Counter Corruption Division (CCD), the National Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Prime Minister’s Office accusing Pol Lt Col Pongporn of overstepping the NOB’s and his authority in lodging the complaint against the five monks.
According to the group, Pol Lt Col Pongporn’s action was tantamount to malfeasance because he lacked authority to litigate against the monks, which they said should result in his ouster. The group said the monks can only be investigated by the Supreme Sangha Council.
The Khon Kaen group interpreted the move against Pol Lt Col Pongporn as a threat aimed at deterring him from prosecuting the culprits in the scandal.
It called on Gen Prayut, himself a Buddhist, to protect Pol Lt Col Pongporn from what it described as “mob rule”, which it said said should not overshadow the rule of law.
In an apparent sign of support for the NOB director, Gen Prayut responded that Pol Lt Col Pongporn had not done anything wrong.
“It’s only the beginning of an investigation that is a prelude to the proper judicial procedures [taking the embezzlement case to court],” he said. “We need an honest and straightforward person to handle it.”
The monks in question include three Supreme Sangha Council members: Phra Phrom Dilok, abbot of Wat Sam Phraya; Phra Prom Methee, assistant abbot of Wat Samphanthawongsaram and chief monk of the 4th-7th regions; and Phra Phrom Sitthi, the abbot of Wat Saket and chief monk of the 10th region.
The other two are Phra Methee Sutthikorn and Phra Wichit Thammaporn, both assistants to the Wat Saket abbot.
The five stand accused of siphoning more than 70 million baht from a Buddhist fund for Phra Pariyati Dhamma schools.