Wirapol Sukphol, jet-setting fugitive Buddhist monk, stuns Thailand; “We have never seen a case this widespread, where a monk has caused so much damage to so many people and to Thai society.”

Wirapol Sukphol, jet-setting fugitive Buddhist monk, stuns Thailand

July 19, 2013 – 7:24AM

Jocelyn Gecker

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Fugitive ex-monk Wirapol Sukpho is at the centre of the biggest religious scandal Thailand has seen in years.Photo: AP

Bangkok: He’s known as Thailand’s jet-setting fugitive monk, and his story has riveted the country with daily headlines of lavish excess, promiscuity and alleged crimes ranging from statutory rape to manslaughter.

Until a month ago, 33-year old Wirapol Sukphol was relatively unknown in Thailand. Now he is at the centre of the biggest religious scandal the predominantly Buddhist country has seen in years. Despite the vows he took to lead a life of celibacy and simplicity, Wirapol had a taste for luxury, police say. His excesses first came to light in June with a YouTube video that went viral. It showed the orange-robed monk in aviator sunglasses taking a private jet ride with a Louis Vuitton carry-on.The video sparked criticism of his un-monkly behaviour and a stream of humorous headlines like, “Now boarding, Air Nirvana”.

Since then, a long list of darker secrets has emerged – including his accumulated assets of an estimated one billion baht ($A34.80 million). This week, authorities issued an arrest warrant for the disgraced monk after having him defrocked in absentia.

Wirapol was in France when the scandal surfaced after leading a meditation retreat at a monastery near Provence. He is believed to have then fled to the US but his current whereabouts are unknown.

The arrest warrant implicates him on three charges including statutory rape, embezzlement and online fraud to seek donations. He is also under investigation for money laundering, drug trafficking and manslaughter for a hit-and-run accident.

Authorities are struggling to figure out how he amassed so much money.

“Over the years there have been several cases of men who abused the robe, but never has a monk been implicated in so many crimes,” said Pong-in Intarakhao, the case’s chief investigator for the Department of Special Investigation.

“We have never seen a case this widespread, where a monk has caused so much damage to so many people and to Thai society.”

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