By Patrick Chan
The Guardian posted an article “Top Thai Buddhist monk investigated over vintage Mercedes-Benz”. The majority of the article was actually quite correct. However, some of the “facts” need to be corrected, and some of the statements need to be explained more fully, incorporating the whole situation. These little errors lead the article to appear very misleading.
In Thailand, respect is a very important part of the culture. In the same way that a soldier must salute the rank, anyone who wants to address a monk with proper respect must address his monkhood and title correctly. The journalist, Oliver Holmes, did not take this in consideration and addressed the high monk as “Chuang” when it should have been “Somdej Chuang.”
General Paiboon illegally ‘summoned’ Somdej Chuang
The article quoted Paiboon Kumchaya, a justice minister who does not know the civil procedure code. His quote, “If [Somdej Chuang] doesn’t respond to the summons, we will seek an arrest warrant,” was voiced without considering the proper laws in place.
By Thailand’s civil procedure code, monks cannot be summoned as witnesses. DSI must request for affidavit. Thai law states that three types of people may not be summoned, unless they are actual suspects. These people have been granted special privileges that states they may only be invited:
The act of “summoning” Somdej Chuang is both undiplomatic and against the law. General Paiboon’s statement quoted in the article that “[he] will seek an arrest warrant” is based on his own ignorance of this lawful privilege.
Somdej Chuang is a witness, NOT a suspect of the case
Based on this law that Somdej Chuang cannot legally be “summoned,” he does not have an obligation to comply with the invitation. General Paiboon has absolutely no reason to make the misleading and false statement that he can seek an arrest warrant. Somdej Chuang cannot legally be arrested for not responding to an illegal summons. It is also important to note that Somdej Chuang is not the suspect of the case, but only a witness.
There are over 6,000 cases of alleged illegal cars in Thailand, so why is Somdej Chuang the main target?
Somdej Chuang’s case is not the only one in Thailand. DSI has ‘exposed’ tax evasions of over 6,000 imported luxurious cars. Police Major Woranat Srilum, the director of DSI said Somdej’s gift car actually belongs in the second category of luxurious cars under 4 million baht, which has 5,000 other ars sharing the category.
To target only Somdej Chuang and allow all the category 1 cars to go uninvestigated is discrimination. It is simply his alleged ties with an unpopular sect that is leading the DSI to target him, while not spending nearly the same investigative capacity on the other cases. It raises the question: does the conflict of interest lie in the nomination of the Supreme Patriarch?
DSI carried the case in an unprofessional fashion
It isn't to say that the case should be dropped, but this is how it should have been carried:
Somdej Chuang should have been asked for a witness statement at his own convenience without being illegally summoned. If he decided to have a spokesperson, that would be his legal choice. This can all be politely and privately executed. There is no need for publicity and bigotry from both the public and the press.
According to the Customs Act section 27 bis., there must be clear evidence that tax was not paid on the car and that the owner is fully aware of it, before the owner can be brought into litigation.
The imported car was given to Somdej Chuang in Thailand. The car was already assembled by the time he received it. At no point was he in contact with the tax evasion process of the car in question, so he is innocent. He was at the end of the whole process, not the one importing the car. After receiving it, it was parked in a museum, not driven by him even once.
Meanwhile, many of the other 6,000 cars that await investigation are being driven around the streets of Thailand. It is clear that the people in charge of the investigations are definitely bigots, choosing only cases that would cause the most havoc in the society.
There are no political ties between the temple and Thaksin Shinawatra
Somdej Chuang ordained the abbot of the Dhammakaya temple - along with hundreds of other monks. Perhaps it can be said that Somdej Chuang has ties to several temples in Thailand. However, the Dhammakaya temple has no political ties to Mr. Thaksin, or any political figures in Thailand. To make such a groundless statement is a stunt to try and make a dull article juicier.
Let’s repeat this statement from another article:
“The temple is quite big, a fact that everyone knows. There is no denying that there are people from every walk of life attending the temple. Common sense says that some of them may be Yellow shirts, some Red shirts, some undecided; it is each person’s freedom. What ever political groups they identify with, when they are inside the temple’s premises, they are White shirts.”