Thai police nab fake high-brow gang that scammed weddings

BANGKOK — Thai police said Friday they have arrested a gang of wedding crashers led by a Buddhist monk who scammed couples by pretending to be officials with royal links and demanding money for their prestigious presence at nuptials.

Police Col. Phumin Pumpanmuang said eight suspects, the monk and seven relatives, have been taken into custody. The monk would attend weddings as an honored guest, with his relatives pretending to be high-ranking and respected figures presenting him with offerings. They would then press the wedding party for donations, which would be awkward to refuse.

Buddhist monks in Thailand are treated with great deference as holy men, while the monarchy is the country's most revered institution.

"They masqueraded as respected people ... and deceived people into giving them offerings," Phumin said.

For their claims of royal ties, the gang members were charged with lese majeste — offending the monarchy — punishable by three to 15 years in prison. The charge is usually applied to people accused of insulting the monarchy, but also in cases where people try to profit by invoking the name of the royal palace.

It's not just weddings the gang crashed in Nakhon Pathom province, west of Bangkok. By combing through social media for evidence, police deduced that the gang would appear at funerals and other temple ceremonies, conning people at half a dozen such events before getting caught.

Police rounded up the gang after being alerted by a bride and groom. One gang member remains at large.

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