BANGKOK: A Thai court was set Thursday to charge a disgraced ex-monk with raping an under-age girl, fraud and money laundering after he was extradited from the United States.
Thailand is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country with around 300,000 men in orange robes, but the clergy are beset by high-profile scandals.
Wiraphon Sukphon, 37, was arrested on arrival at Bangkok’s main airport late Wednesday from the US where he established an unofficial Buddhist teaching centre after fleeing Thailand in 2013.
He was charged by Thai police over the offences and voluntarily disrobed, according to police at the Department of Special Investigation (DSI).
“The Attorney-General will indict Wiraphon today (Thursday) and advise the court to oppose bail because he poses a flight risk,” Somuk Siengkong, Attorney-General spokesman told reporters.
Wiraphon seized the headlines in 2013 when footage emerged of him with two other monks on a private jet wearing sunglasses and wielding Louis Vuitton designer bags — earning him the tabloid nickname ‘jet-set monk’.
A subsequent probe seized US$770,000 of assets, including a Porsche and a Mercedes Benz car, and 41 bank accounts.
He is also accused of having sex with an underage girl around a decade ago while he was a monk, and of fathering a child with her.
The scandal-mired cleric went by the name Luang Pu Nen Kham to back-up claims he was the reincarnation of a famous miracle-performing monk.
Despite being disrobed by his temple in Thailand he fled the kingdom and continued to act as a monk, establishing a Buddhist centre in California.
In May a US court ordered his extradition after a request from Thai authorities.
All Thai men are expected by social convention to spend some time in orange robes.
Negative publicity trails the clergy, with recent extortion, sex and drugs and murder scandals involving monks shocking the Thai public.
Buddhist authorities want to clean-up the image of the clergy and keep a tighter check on temple finances.
Last week the Thai junta trailed the idea of “smart ID cards” for each monk to record any criminal history and prevent people using orange robes for personal benefit.