A top Buddhist monk in Thailand has found himself in the middle of a controversy with his classic Mercedes-Benz, which is worth more than $250,000 (£179,000). Police have said that Somdej Chuang's car was imported in parts to avoid paying import duties.
Chuang, who is the acting "supreme patriarch", or the highest governing monk in the Thai Buddhist order, has emerged as the top contender to replace Somdej Phra Nyanasamvara, who died in 2013. To become the supreme patriarch, Chuang requires the prime minister's nomination and the approval of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
This scandal and reports of his monk followers fighting soldiers during a protest in February could have serious consequence on Chuang's nomination as supreme patriarch. Besides, a number of monks are also said to be opposed to his selection as the supreme patriarch.
"At this point, we can only say that this vehicle is illegal," Department of Special Investigation (DSI) director-general Colonel Paisit Wongmuang said. DSI has been investigating the case since 2013, he said.
Meanwhile, the assistant abbot of Wat Paknam monastery has said that he paid for the car and gave it to Chuang. But Chuang's critics are of the opinion that the assistant abbot is taking the blame in an attempt to clear the acting patriarch's name in the ongoing investigation.
"We will investigate further as to why he has given this Mercedes-Benz to the senior monk," Wongmuang said.
There are about 300,000 monks in Thailand, including those who are temporarily ordained for a brief period of time, according to Global Post.
There have been reports of monks involved in offences such as trafficking meth or embezzling cash or running illegal temples that charge tourists to cuddle with endangered tigers, the Global Post report said. One of the most infamous monks was Nen Kham, whose leaked photos showed him counting a bundle of hundred-dollar bills aboard his private jet in 2013, it said.
However, there are fully ordained monks called "bhikkus" who abstain from sex and cannot even laugh aloud in public. They are also forbidden to slurp while eating their meals and are given new blankets only after they have used their old ones for at least six years.