80 million baht cash found buried at Buddhist temple in Thailand

Photo via ThaiRath

A stash of 80 million baht cash and a pile of gold bars were found buried in the soil behind Wat Pa Dhammakiri temple in Nakhon Ratchasima province in northeast Thailand on Monday. The temple was searched after the former abbot and two others were arrested under suspicion of embezzling 180 million baht of temple funds last week. The three suspects are suspected of embezzling 300 million baht since 2020.

Officers from the Crime Suppression Division arrested 39 year old Khom Kongkaew (formerly Phra Khom Apiwaro) – a meditation master – 38 year old Wuttima Thaomor (formerly Phra Mahawutima Thaomor) – the former abbot of the temple – and Khom’s 35 year old Juthathip Phutbodhiwarochupan on Sunday on charges of embezzlement and corruption.

The trio allegedly took donations and hid the money for themselves. One donation to the temple was allegedly given to former abbot Wuttima who passed the money to Khom’s sister Juthathip.

Khom asked to make a phone call at the police station in which he attempted to secretly ask someone to move the temple’s assets, leading the police to conduct a thorough search of the temple grounds.

Police found 80 million baht cash and gold bars worth 19 million baht buried in the soil on the hill behind the temple. Police expanded their investigation to question 20 more witnesses after the discovery.

Now, police have arrested six more suspects suspected to be involved in the embezzlement including five former monks and one driver.

A local man said that several monk’s quarters were built on the hill behind the temple. He said that monks are always patrolling the area as if they are hiding something. He said that when locals rarely attempt to make merit at the temple because the temple committee prohibits them from entering for “dressing inappropriately.” He said he was suspicious something fishy was going on but didn’t dare tell anyone.

Police said they would object bail requests for the three suspects because they are worried they will either flee or tamper with evidence in the case. Today, the Criminal Court denied Khom’s bail request, citing that his alleged behaviour was a “serious undermining” of Buddhism. He will be initially detained for a period of 12 days.
Police charged the suspects with jointly abusing power to embezzle money, jointly supporting officials who abuse power to embezzle money, and incorrectly performing or neglecting duty. Khom’s sister was also charged with receiving stolen goods.

Khom is also believed to have had a sexual relationship with one of his followers. He was defrocked on Monday.

The temple has taken down its Facebook page, which was followed by more than 100,000 people.

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Leah is a translator and news writer for the Thaiger. Leah studied East Asian Religions and Thai Studies at the University of Leeds and Chiang Mai University. Leah covers crime, politics, environment, human rights, entertainment, travel and culture in Thailand and southeast Asia.

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