Thai cops search scandal-hit temple for wanted monk

2017-02-16 14:39
Sakchai Lalit, AP

Sakchai Lalit, AP

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Bangkok - Thai police began sweeping a scandal-hit Buddhist temple on Thursday to search for a wanted monk who has evaded arrest for months in a saga highlighting a split over the nation's faith.

The search of the powerful and ultra-rich Wat Dammakaya temple on Bangkok's outskirts comes after Thailand's junta chief invoked special powers to put its sprawling 1 000-acre compound under military control.

Previous attempts to raid the temple were thwarted after thousands of devotees showed up to defend Phra Dhammachayo, the septuagenarian monk who founded the breakaway Buddhist order in 1970.

The former abbot is believed to be holed up inside the temple, which is famous for its space-age architecture, but has not been seen in public for months.

He is accused of money laundering and accepting embezzled funds worth 1.2 billion baht ($33 million) from the jailed owner of a cooperative bank.

In a day of high drama and stagecraft, thousands of police and soldiers were bussed into the site before dawn on Thursday, locking down roads leading to the vast temple.

The operation followed a sudden order endorsed by junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha that gave authorities power to block the entrance.

"The Dhammakaya temple has allowed police and DSI officials to carry out a search inside the temple for the suspect," the head of the DSI, Thailand's equivalent of the FBI, told reporters after an hours-long standoff.

"If (the abbot) thinks he is innocent he should surrender and enter the judicial process," said Colonel Paisit Wongmuang.

Sect supporters are believed to be inside the temple alongside monks, whose mantras could be heard outside the temple walls where columns of back-up police patiently waited.

Speaking to media outside the temple's gate, a Dhammakaya spokesman said he could not confirm whether the wanted ex-abbot was inside.

"I don't know his whereabouts - I haven't seen him in about nine months," said Phra Sanitwong Wutthiwangso.

Temple staff have previously said the leader is innocent but too ill to be questioned by police.

'Cultish'

Historically, Thailand's secular authorities have been reluctant to intervene in the affairs of the clergy in the Buddhist-majority country.

But hostility towards the Dhammakaya sect has mounted in recent years, with critics from the mainstream Buddhist establishment accusing the temple of promoting a pay-your-way to nirvana philosophy.

The controversy is also fuelled by speculation that the temple has links to Thaksin Shinawatra - the ex-premier who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and lies at the heart of the kingdom's rancorous political divide.

The administration of his sister Yingluck, who was also prime minister, was toppled by the military again in 2014.

The temple denies any political affiliations and says it has become a pawn in a battle that pits the Shinawatras and their rural supporters against Bangkok's army-allied elite.

Aided by a sophisticated PR operation, the sect has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past three decades, raising tens of millions of dollars and opening outposts around the world.

It is also famous for hosting visually-stunning mass gatherings of orange-robed monks on Buddhist holy days - events derided by critics as a display of the sect's "cultish" approach.

Last week Thailand's new king chose an octoganerian abbot to become the country's new top monk, ending a three year stalemate over the position and passing over a Dhammakaya-linked cleric who was next-in-line for the job.

Read more on:    thailand

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Play with your pet when you're not at home

Many pets are alone at home during the week while their owners are at work. So what do these animals get up to while they’re home alone?

 
 

Paws

How to get rid of fleas
12 Cool cat facts
Chocolate can be fatal for dogs
Spider-man star's adorable relationship with his dog
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.