Disgraced 'jet-set monk' charged with rape

Former Thai monk Wiraphon Sukphon being questioned by the authorities in Bangkok on Wednesday.
Former Thai monk Wiraphon Sukphon being questioned by the authorities in Bangkok on Wednesday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BANGKOK • A Thai court charged a disgraced former monk yesterday with the rape of an underage girl, fraud and money laundering, after he was extradited from the US at Thailand's request.

Wiraphon Sukphon, 37, was arrested on arrival at Bangkok's main airport on Wednesday from the United States where he had set up an unofficial Buddhist teaching centre after fleeing Thailand in 2013.

He faces a total of five charges, including raping a minor under 15 years old, which carries a jail term of up to 20 years.

Wiraphon made news in 2013 when footage emerged of him with two other monks on a private jet and wielding Louis Vuitton designer bags - earning him the tabloid moniker the "jet-set monk". A subsequent probe led to the seizure of US$770,000 (S$1 million) of his assets, including a Porsche car and 41 bank accounts.

The scandal-mired cleric, who fathered a child with the girl he raped, went by the name Luang Pu Nen Kham to back up claims that he was the reincarnation of a famous miracle-performing monk. His temple disrobed him after the allegations surfaced, and he fled.

Buddhism is weaved closely into the social fabric of the kingdom, and all Thai men are expected to spend some time in orange robes.

Yet the clergy is dogged by negative publicity, with recent extortion, sex, drugs, gambling and murder scandals shocking the public.

Last week the Thai junta trailed the idea of "smart ID cards" for monks to record any criminal history and prevent people using orange robes for personal benefit.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'Disgraced 'jet-set monk' charged with rape'. Print Edition | Subscribe