High Living Buddhist Monk Scandalizes Thailand

Making headlines far outside of Thailand, Luang Pu Nenkham, a fabulously wealthy Buddhist monk, father of a child by a minor child and beguiler of the rich and famous, seems to have outed himself with posts on his own website.  Thai police have filed charges and the now defrocked monk has fled France for the wider reaches of the United States.

Born in the poor northeastern province of Ubon Ratchathani, he entered the monkhood as a teenager and gained local renown for claims of supernatural powers like the ability to fly, walk on water and talk to deities. He renamed himself, Luang Pu Nen Kham, taking on a self-bestowed title normally reserved for elder monks.

Gradually, he cultivated wealthy followers to help fund expensive projects in the name of Buddhism — building temples, hospitals and what was touted as the world’s largest Emerald Buddha. The 11-meter (36-foot) high Buddha was built at his temple in the northeast, touted as solid jade but made of tinted concrete.

Thailand’s Anti-Money Laundering Office has discovered 41 bank accounts linked to the ex-monk. Several of the accounts kept about 200-million baht ($6.4-million) in constant circulation, raising suspicion of money laundering.

Investigators also suspect that Wirapol killed a man in a hit-and-run accident while driving a Volvo late at night three years ago.

Critics say Wirapol is an extreme example of a wider crisis in Buddhism, which has become marginalized by a shortage of monks and an increasingly secular society. The meditative lifestyle of the monkhood offers little allure to young Buddhists raised on shopping malls, smartphones and the Internet.

…During a shopping spree from 2009 to 2011, Wirapol bought 22 Mercedes worth 95-million baht ($3.1-million), according to the DSI. The fleet of luxury cars were among 70 vehicles he has purchased. Some he gave as gifts to senior monks, others he sold off as part of a suspected black market car business to launder his money, Pong-in said.

Luxury travel for the monk included helicopters and private jets for trips between the northeast and Bangkok.

“I always wondered what kind of monk has this much money,” said one of his regular pilots, Piya Tregalnon. Each domestic roundtrip cost about 300,000 baht ($10,000) and the monk always paid in cash, he said in comments posted on Facebook.

“The most bizarre thing is what was in his bag,” Piya said, referring to the typical monk’s humble cloth shoulder sack. “It was filled with stacks of 100 dollar bills.”

Like many people, Piya only went public with his suspicions after the scandal erupted. Dozens of pictures have been posted in online forums showing Wirapol’s high-flying lifestyle — riding a camel at the pyramids in Egypt, sitting in a cockpit at the Cessna Aircraft factory in Kansas. According to the pilot and investigators, Wirapol was interested in buying his own private jet.

Even more incriminating were accusations of multiple sexual relationships with women — a cardinal sin for monks who are not allowed to touch women. Among them was a 14-year-old girl with whom he allegedly had a son, a decade ago. The mother filed a statutory rape case against him last week.

Here, more here and here. Court accepts case for pedophilia

I am struck, as I usually am,  that the climb to wealth and (abuse of) power is enabled by the gullible all along the way: ability to fly, to walk on water, indeed…

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