Jet-setting Thai monk makes a bumpy landing … in prison
Back in 2013, Buddhist monk Wirapol Sukphol caused outrage when he appeared in a YouTube video that showed him enjoying the high life. He was pictured in his monk’s robes aboard a private jet wearing aviator sunglasses with a Louis Vuitton bag.
Today Sukphol is behind bars, having been sentenced to more than 100 years in prison for fleecing his followers.
According to this report, the Ratchada Criminal Court in Bangkok yesterday sentenced him to 114 years in prison, although legal technicalities capped the actual time he must serve at 20 years.
He was found guilty of fraud, money laundering and for spending money he had solicited for Buddhist statuary and temple improvements on cars and luxury goods.
The court also ordered that Sukphol pay 28.6 million baht (£670,000) in compensation to 29 people who filed lawsuits saying he had cheated them.
The same court will deliver a verdict on October 17 on a child molestation and child abduction charge against the former monk, who was defrocked amid accusations that he had sexual relations with several women – a major violation of the precepts guiding monks’ behavior – and had impregnated one. There were also allegations he had sex with a 14-year-old girl.
In a bid to escape Thai justice he fled to the United States, where he was arrested in 2016 and extradited last year.
Critics say Sukphol 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.
Sukphol put on brave face at his sentencing, saying:
Prison is comfortable, there are people always buying you food and there’s plenty of space. Anyone want to join me?.
If I have to spend many years in prison but can accept it, then it’s comfortable. If you can’t accept it, just one day in prison can feel like a thousand years.
The court noted an earlier civil court ruling that ordered the confiscation of 43.5 million baht (£1.1 million) from the fraudster.
According to Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation, Sukphol at one point had accumulated assets estimated at 1 billion baht (£23.36 million).
Between 2009 and 2011, he bought 22 Mercedes Benz cars worth 95 million baht (£2.25 million), the department said.