Thailand's top monk's nomination on hold till mystery of Mercedes is solved

Thailand's top monk's nomination on hold till mystery of Mercedes is solved
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

Top monk's nomination on hold until mystery of mercedes resolved

THE Department of Special Investigation (DSI) plans to conclude within one month its investigation into a Mercedes Benz owned by the monk who has been nominated as the new Supreme Patriarch.

There are have been suspicions that the luxury car might be connected to a tax evasion scheme.

PM's Office Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said said the pending case against Somdej Phra Maha Ratchamangalacharn, also known as Somdej Chuang, the 80-year-old abbot of Pak Nam Temple, would be taken into account before any move to officially appoint him as Supreme Patriarch.

"We will compile complete information before we forward his name to the prime minister for consideration," Suwaphan said.

Col Major Worranan Srilum, head of the DSI's Special Case Management Centre, said his agency planned to review all relevant documents and interrogate the figures involved in the case.

"We believe we should be able to conclude the investigation within one month," he said.

Somdej Chuang has been serving as acting Supreme Patriarch and, backed by the Supreme Sangha Council, he has been nominated for permanent elevation to the top monastic post.

However, many groups have questioned his suitability for the role.

Representatives of several networks yesterday petitioned the National Reform Steering Assembly, saying that the elderly monk was not qualified to serve as Supreme Patriarch.

Among the petition's charges were that the monk had flouted a written order from Somdej Phra Nyanasamvara, the late Supreme Patriarch. He had also collected luxury cars.

Damkerng Jindarha, who has helped with Wat Pak Nam's affairs, has argued that the three Mercedes Benz, including the one being investigated by the DSI, were just antiques.

"The temple has collected antiques and put them inside a museum for visitors, particularly the younger generations, to check out," he said.

Damkerng guided Worranan around the museum yesterday. Located inside the compound at Wat Pak Nam, it also contains many other collectibles.

Worranan said the temple had already handed over car-registration papers to him.

"The documents show the vehicle was assembled in Thailand. But we have to investigate further," he said.

Cars assembled in Thailand are subject to a lower tax rate, compared with imported vehicles.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a DSI official disclosed that they had already checked workshops identified as assemblers of the vehicle that landed Somdej Chuang in the car-affair controversy.

"One of them is now deserted. The other is still open but lacks any car-assembling equipment," he said.

Available records show the Benz in question was declared a non-active vehicle in 2013.

Paiboon Nititawan, head of a Buddhist-reform panel of the now-defunct National Reform Council, called on the Office of the Ombudsman yesterday to determine exactly which person or organisation had the legal mandate to nominate the new Supreme Patriarch.

"I think by the letter of the law, it's the prime minister who is in charge of nomination," he said.

By tradition, the Supreme Sangha Council has nominated the new Supreme Patriarch for the PM to endorse.

"But we can't stick to the tradition when the law rules otherwise," Paiboon said.

He said he had already asked Suwaphan to delay presenting the Supreme Sangha Council's resolution to nominate Somdej Chuang as the new Supreme Patriarch to the prime minister.

"We had better wait for the interpretation of the Office of the Ombudsman," Paiboon said.

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