Building contractor arrested for temple funds skimming

Building contractor Jessada Wongmek talks with police at the Crime Suppression Division on Friday after being arrested in Nakhon Si Thammarat on charges of collusion in the corrupt use of temple funds.(Photo by Wassayos Ngamkham)

Crime Suppression Division (CSD) police have arrested a construction firm owner in Nakhon Si Thammarat with alleged links to the temple funds embezzlement scandal.

The ongoing investigation, which has netted senior monks and senior officials of the National Office of Buddhism (NOB), has now narrowed down to two remaining suspects believed to have fled the country.

Pol Col Pumin Pumpanmuang of the CSD said Jessada Wongmek, 38, was captured in Muang district of the southern province on Friday and brought to Bangkok to hear charges of colluding with officials for purposes corruption.

Mr Jessada runs an electronic appliance shop and a construction firm. He allegedly colluded with four temple abbots in the province in skimming off development funds allocated by the NOB.

Each temple involved received 3 million baht from the NOB to renovate their compound, and his company was hired to do the work. What was left after the work was done was pocketed by the temple abbots and Mr Jessada, according to Pol Col Pumin.

Mr Jessada was one of the 11 people targeted by police in the latest crackdown on corruption in the use of temple funds. Eight NOB officials, including former director Phanom Sornsilp, are already in detention.

Former director Nopparat Benjawattana and ex-deputy chief Pranom Kongpikul are fugitives on the run.

Pol Col Pumin said Mr Nopparat had fled to the United States and Mrs Pranom was also believed to be in another country. Mr Nopparat was the key suspect, and had masterminded the scandal, he alleged.

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