Thai monk who flew in high style gets prison for fraud
BANGKOK (AP) — A former Buddhist monk infamous for a jet-set lifestyle was sentenced Thursday to more than 100 years in prison in connection with funds he fraudulently raised from followers.
Wirapol Sukphol caused a scandal when he appeared in a 2013 YouTube video in his monk's robes aboard a private jet wearing aviator sunglasses with a Louis Vuitton carry-on by his side. He was defrocked amid accusations that he had sexual relations with several women — a major violation of the precepts guiding monks' behavior — and had impregnated one. There were also allegations he had sex with a 14-year-old girl.
Because of the furor, he fled to the United States, where he was arrested in 2016 and extradited last year.
The Ratchada Criminal Court in Bangkok sentenced him Thursday to 114 years in prison, although legal technicalities capped the actual time he must serve at 20 years. He was found guilty of fraud, money laundering and violation of the computer crime act for spending money he had solicited for Buddhist statuary and temple improvements instead on cars and luxury goods.
The court also ordered that Wirapol pay 28.6 million baht ($864,000) in compensation to 29 people who filed lawsuits saying he had cheated them.
The same court will deliver a verdict on Oct. 17 on a child molestation and child abduction case against Wiraphol.
Critics say Wirapol is an extreme example of a wider crisis in Thai Buddhism, which has become marginalized by a shortage of monks and an increasingly secular society.
At the court Thursday, a smiling Wirapol was joined by around 10 followers whom he told to relax.
"Prison is comfortable, there are people always buying you food and there's plenty of space. Anyone want to join me?" Wirapol said. "If I have to spend many years in prison but can accept it, then it's comfortable. If you can't accept it, just one day in prison can feel like a thousand years."
The court's decision noted an earlier civil court ruling that ordered the confiscation of 43.5 million baht ($1.3 million) from Wirapol.
According to Thailand's Department of Special Investigation, Wirapol at one point had accumulated assets estimated at 1 billion baht ($30.1 million). During a shopping spree from 2009 to 2011, he bought 22 Mercedes Benz cars worth 95 million baht ($2.9 million), the department said.