Thailand monks: Wirapol Sukphol case highlights country's Buddhism crisis
By Jonathan Head
BBC News, Bangkok
A subsequent investigation by the Thai Department of Special Investigations (DSI) uncovered a lifestyle of what appeared to be mind-blowing decadence. They tracked down at least 200 million Thai baht ($6m; £4.6m) in ten bank accounts, and the purchase of 22 Mercedes Benz cars.
Wirapol had built a mansion in southern California, owned a large and gaudily-decorated house in his home town of Ubon Ratchathani, and had also constructed a giant replica of the famous Emerald Buddha statue in Bangkok's royal palace, which he claimed - falsely, as it turned out - contained nine tonnes of gold.
There was evidence, too, the DSI said, of sexual relationships with a number of women. One woman claimed he had fathered a child with her when she was only 15 years old, a claim the DSI says is supported by DNA analysis.
Wirapol fled to the US. It took four years for the Thai authorities to secure his extradition. He has denied criminal charges of fraud, money laundering and rape.
How had a monk acquired so much influence, even in his early twenties? How was he allowed to behave in ways which clearly violate the patimokkha (the 227 precepts by which monks are supposed to live)? Monks are not even supposed to touch money, and sex is strictly off-limits.
Monks behaving badly are nothing new in Thailand. The temptations of modern life have thrown up many examples of monks with unseemly wealth, monks taking drugs, dancing, enjoying sexual relations with men, women, girls and boys.
There are also temples which have attracted large and dedicated followings, through skilful promotion of charismatic monks and abbots, said to have supernatural powers.
These have capitalised on two aspects of modern Thai life; the yearning for spiritual succour among urban Thais, who no longer have a close relationship with a traditional village temple, and a belief that donating generously to powerful temples will bring success and more material wealth.