Ex-Monk Acquitted of Lese Majeste for Royal Forgery

Wankasat Promthong at the court on May 29, 2019.

BANGKOK — A former monk accused of fabricating ties to the monarchy was on Wednesday convicted of fraud but acquitted of royal defamation.

Wankasat Promthong, 31, was found guilty of fraud by an appeals court for selling amulets with forged royal insignias and dishonestly claiming the trinkets were sponsored by the palace. He was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison.

The sentence was lighter than the verdict passed by the lower court in November 2017, which convicted Wankasat of both fraud and lese majeste for perceived insults to the monarchy. He was initially sentenced to five years and nine months in jail.

Explaining the revised verdict, the Court of Appeals reasoned the defendant claimed false ties to the monarchy only to pursue monetary gain, and not to defame or insult the royal family.

Prosecutors said Wankasat, formerly Phra Wankasat, told other monks at his temple that he was raised in the royal palace and anointed into monkhood by the late King Bhumibol.

Until Wankasat’s arrest in 2016, he sold amulets emblazoned with the royal insignia under pretensions that they were sponsored by the Royal Household Bureau, according to the prosecutors.

Wankasat’s verdict appears to be a departure from previous trials involving suspects who claim false ties to the monarchy. In other cases, defendants were typically convicted of lese majeste, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.