BANGKOK — A former monk who became a national pariah for his high-flying lifestyle was convicted of defrauding his followers Thursday and sentenced to more than a century in prison.
The Criminal Court found Wirapol Sukphol, formerly known as Luang Puu Nen Kham, guilty of 42 counts of fraud, money laundering and computer crimes for bamboozling more than 28 million baht from at least 29 people.
He was also ordered to repay all his victims. The court will rule in October on other counts against him relating to an alleged sexual assault of a minor.
According to the rulings, 39-year-old Wirapol used his prominence in the monkhood to trick people into donating money to non-existent construction projects in at least four provinces between 2009 and 2013 when he headed a monastery in Sisaket province. Among the whoppers sold were what he claimed would be the world’s biggest jade Buddha statue and another of him made entirely of gold.
The court said he then used the donations to splurge on goodies including 10 cars, among them a Porsche.
Wirapol’s fame as a magical monk followed by a throng of wealthy disciples came crashing down in 2013 when a series of pictures and videos of him emerged, such as images of him sporting Louis Vuitton shades and bags on a private plane and sleeping next to a woman.
Although his sentences add up to 114 years, statutory limits mean he will serve a maximum of 20 years for all the convictions.
He fled to the United States after being expelled from monkhood, but continued to wear his robes and founded a monastery in Southern California. He was extradited to face trial in Thailand in July 2017. Forty-three million baht worth of his assets were seized.