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Thailand's jet-set monk, Luang Pu Nenkham, hunted on sex charges

By Ramy Inocencio and Kocha Olarn
July 19, 2013 -- Updated 0231 GMT (1031 HKT)
This still image taken from amateur footage posted on YouTube purportedly shows Luang Pu Nenkham (L) on a private jet.
This still image taken from amateur footage posted on YouTube purportedly shows Luang Pu Nenkham (L) on a private jet.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 34-year old Thai Buddhist monk accused of lavish, immoral lifestyle
  • Arrest warrant out for Luang Pu Nenkham for having sex with minor, rape
  • Leaked video of monk on luxury private jet first attracted Thai authorities
  • Monk believed to be in California, according to Thai authorities

(CNN) -- To most of us, golden Aviator sunglasses, sleek wireless headphones, a Louis Vuitton bag and a private jet flight better suit the life of a Hollywood star than a holy Buddhist ascetic.

Yet Thailand's so-called "jet-set monk," 34-year old Luang Pu Nenkham, who claimed to be the reincarnation of a respected monk who lived several decades ago, is accused of ignoring his Buddhist vows of celibacy and a simple, moral living, as evidenced in video that showed up on youtube about two months ago. Thailand's Department of Special Investigation (DSI), a division of the Ministry of Justice, tells CNN it believes the video was shot by one of the monks on the plane, passed around and posted anonymously.

Thai authorities, in an investigation, uncovered a mind-boggling list of assets that they say a man sworn to austerity should not possess.

Nenkham, now stripped of his religious leadership, owned at least 83 automobiles and a list of properties that include plots of land, houses and condominiums, according to the DSI. Thai authorities believe more properties have yet to be accounted.

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Authorities also estimate at least 300 million baht, or nearly $10 million, have disappeared from Nenkham's bank accounts in recent days. Donations over the past decade, from poor supporters as well as rich backers, had helped Nenkham amass his total wealth, according to investigators.

On Wednesday, Thai authorities took action issuing a arrest warrant for the former holy man.

Nenkham, who also goes by the name Weerapol Sukpol, now faces charges of violating Thailand's computer crime act by posting "deceitful information," having sex with a minor and rape, authorities say. A female plaintiff who claimed Nenkham had sex with her when she was 14 years old submitted a request for a DNA test for her 11-year old son, says Tharit Pengdit, Director General of the Department of Special Investigation. They are still awaiting results. Nenkham's bank accounts also continue to be under investigation because of an unusually large amount of bank transactions, add Thai authorities.

Nenkham is now believed to be in the United States and in California, according to an "intelligent source," says DSI. The fugitive owns a Buddhist retreat some 75 miles south of Los Angeles.

We have been unable to reach Nenkham for comment. On Thursday, CNN went to where the monk is believed to be staying. While they offered no official statement, one resident monk said Nenkham had not been seen at the retreat in three months. A second monk said Nenkham had not visited for a year.

As the manhunt for the fugitive monk gathers steam, Thailand's Department of Special Investigations tells CNN it has requested 114 financial institutions, land and transport departments to seize all of his assets. Thai authorities have also requested U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to revoke Nenkham's visa, DSI's Pengdit told CNN, and will ask U.S. authorities to arrest and remand him into Thai custody.

Ramy Inocencio wrote this article in Hong Kong. Kocha Olarn reported from Bangkok.

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