BANGKOK — A popular social media influencer on Tuesday stands accused of misusing donation money ostensibly fundraised to help wildfires in the north.
It was an escalation of backlash against Sean Buranahiran, who invited wrath from anti-government netizens by praising scandal-embroiled Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan in a video. Gen. Prawit himself tried to distance himself from the embattled life coach on Tuesday, saying he never met Sean personally.
“I don’t know him and I never met him,” Prawit told reporters at Government House.
In a video posted by Sean, who has more than 3.7 million followers on Facebook, the self-described life coach says he has met Gen. Prawit a tree-planting event in Chiang Mai and found him to be “a kind of sweet.”
Netizens have since raised doubts whether his praises are sponsored. But environment ministry perm-sec Jatuporn Buruspat said Sean had nothing to do with the event, and he was not even invited to be there.
“I confirm that Sean wasn’t hired to be there,” Jatuporn said. “I don’t know him, so why should I hire him? Why not hire someone who is more famous instead? I stood next to Gen. Prawit throughout the event, but I didn’t see him coming. I believe he’s a local volunteer, because the event was open to everyone.”
His charities on putting out wildfires in the northern region also came under scrutiny.
Sean reportedly netted a total of 875,741 baht raised from his fans to help combat the northern bushfire from March 30 to May 1. The life coach said 254,516 baht of the fund was spent on production of promotional contents and raising awareness of the cause.
Although Sean insisted the spending was transparent, the revelation led netizens to criticize him for allegedly embezzling the money.
“How dare you use the donation to boost your posts and pay for your production team?” user Worachat Cheang Thamrongvarangkul commented. “You are shameless. Is this a kind of person who should be preaching us?”
More damning statements came from Khajorn Prasertsri, a local village headman who volunteered to fight the wildfires. Khajorn said he had never received any help from the social media influencer.
Chiang Mai City district chief Sarawut Worapong also said Sean did not seek permission to raise money as required by law, raising a possibility of a legal action against the social media influencer.
“We will call him to testify details about the donations,” Sarawut said. “If anyone believes that the money has been misused, they can file a police complaint against him.”
Transparency activist Srisuwan said he will file a complaint to the Revenue Department, asking the agency to audit Sean’s accounts for any irregularities.