Pongporn returns as National Buddhism Office head after row

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Chief reinstated to buddhism office as temple corruption probe continues.

After weeks of resistance and widespread rumours, Pol Lt-Colonel Pongporn Pramsneh has been reinstalled as chief of the National Buddhism Office (NBO).

Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha also announced that the NBO would no longer be under the supervision of PM’s Office Minister Omsin Chiwaphruek.

“Deputy Prime Minister General Thanasak Patimaprakorn has now been assigned to oversee the NBO in place of Omsin,” Prayut said.

On August 29, Omsin issued an order transferring Pongporn out of the NBO helm to a post of inspector-general at the Office of the Prime Minister. 

Pongporn has since fought the transfer order. 

His transfer, which was endorsed by the Cabinet late last month, took place amid widespread rumours that his efforts to eradicate corruption at temples might have upset some high-ranking monks. 

The Cabinet, at yesterday’s meeting, however backtracked from its endorsement of the order that dislodged Pongporn from the helm of the NBO and issued a resolution to reinstall Pongporn as the NBO chief.

Pongporn rose to the helm of the NBO in February through an order issued by Prayut. It was quite clear then that Pongporn was expected to lead the mission to fight corruption in monastic compounds and rein in the controversial Dhammakaya Temple. 

During the past several months, investigations into alleged corruption at several temples have progressed. 

Last Friday, police raided several locations associated with NBO officials implicated in the corruption scandal. Among them are the NBO’s former directors Phanom Sornsilp and Nopparat Benjawatananan, Sing Buri Buddhism Office’s Narongdej Chainet, and NBO academic Pattana Su-ammartmontri. 

Among the implicated temples is the famous Raikhing Temple in Nakhon Pathom province.

Pol Colonel Warayut Suwatthanakul, deputy commander of the National Police Office’s Counter Corruption Division (CCD), said his agency had found that after the NBO transferred sizeable state subsidies to 23 temples in recent years, the implicated monasteries handed back most of the subsidies to officials.

According to the CCD probe, of Bt188 million in state subsidies given to the 23 temples in recent years, Bt141 million suspiciously flowed into the hands of some individuals.

Of the 19 suspects, 13 are former or incumbent officials at the NBO, two others are non-officials and four others are monks.
The CCD has already issued summons for the four accused monks, all of whom hold senior monastic ranks. “These four monks have yet to contact us,” Warayut said. “But we have already reported the alleged wrongdoing to the Supreme Commander, who chairs the Sangha Supreme Council.” 

Warayut said the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) would take further action against the accused.

“We have already submitted our investigation report on the 23 temples to the NACC,” he said.

He added that his division would investigate at least 100 more temples across the country in the wake of the scandal. 

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