Hindu Endowments Board to track gold in temples after ex-priest charged with misappropriation

Kandasamy Senapathi was charged with five counts each of criminal breach of trust and dealing with the benefits of his alleged criminal activities.
Kandasamy Senapathi was charged with five counts each of criminal breach of trust and dealing with the benefits of his alleged criminal activities.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) will be keeping a closer watch on the movements of gold items within the four temples under its charge, after a former chief priest allegedly misappropriated multiple pieces of ceremonial jewellery from Sri Mariamman Temple.

The temples' management committees will tighten oversight of all the gold inventories in their respective temples, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong on Monday (March 1).

In addition, the board will also conduct more audits each year, including surprise ones.

Mr Tong was responding to Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok), who had asked about the steps taken to prevent such an incident from taking place in the future.

Gold ornaments, which are frequently used for prayers, are kept in the custody of the chief priest in the inner sanctum of the temple, and regular audits are done to ensure that the ornaments are physically accounted for.

But in an audit last year, these items were discovered missing. In February, Indian national Kandasamy Senapathi, 37, was charged with five counts each of criminal breach of trust and dealing with the benefits of his alleged criminal activities.

He allegedly committed the offences between 2016 and 2020, taking jewellery with pawn value of more than $2 million, pawning and redeeming them repeatedly.

He was dismissed as chief priest after the temple discovered the loss.

The missing items were subsequently returned.

In his response, Mr Tong noted that the HEB conducts routine audits at all four temples, including Sri Mariamman Temple, to ensure that all ceremonial jewellery are properly accounted for.

Following the incident, the board commissioned a special audit of gold inventories in all of its temples to ensure that all ceremonial jewellery had been accounted for. No other irregularities were discovered, he said.

The HEB has since worked closely with the Commissioner of Charities to review and strengthen its governance and internal controls, to ensure proper safekeeping and management of gold items, Mr Tong said.

"In particular, HEB is improving the gold movement registers to track all movements of gold items within the temples."

He added that HEB will be working with the Commissioner of Charities to share lessons learnt and best practices with other Hindu temple charities.