BANGKOK (AFP) - A firebrand Buddhist monk has been disrobed after being charged over the sale of amulets with fake royal seals, Thai police said on Friday (May 25). It is a dramatic fall from grace for a cleric who helped lead protests that toppled the former government.
The junta that seized power in 2014 after those protests has in recent months taken a strong line with Thailand's powerful Buddhist clergy after several major financial scandals.
But the arrest of Luang Pu Buddha Issara, who ran a key Bangkok protest camp in the months before the coup, has surprised a public used to the monk's pro-junta diatribes.
He was charged with faking endorsements by revered late King Bhumibol of sacred amulets he was selling online, according to Major-General Maitri Chimcherd, the commander of the Crime Suppression Division.
"The court denied his bail request," Maitri said, adding that he was defrocked.
The complaint emerged after a collector of amulets, highly prized as lucky charms in Thailand, found that the monk's website was selling items purporting to have palace support.
"When I checked on the website, there was no evidence of official permission to use royal initials," Vichai Prasertsudsiri told news agency Agence France-Presse.
Misappropriating the palace name is a dangerous game in Thailand, where the monarchy is shielded by one of the world's strictest lese majeste laws.
Issara avoided the royal defamation charge, but still could face a maximum 20 years in jail under the forgery allegation.
Monks are formally outlawed from political roles, but for several years, Issara straddled the religious and secular spheres as a hardline critic of the former government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
He played a key galvanising role in the raucous and deadly street protests four years ago that the military used to justify taking power.
He was also charged over the alleged torture of two undercover police officers who had infiltrated his protest site.
His arrest came amid a sweep of several other senior monks in a multimillion-dollar embezzlement probe.