Thailand: Thousands of Police Raid Wat Dhammakaya

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Pathum Thani
170216-TH-dhammakaya-620.jpg Buddhist monks attend morning prayers to mark Makha Bucha Day at Wat Dhammakaya, Feb. 11, 2017.

More than 4,000 police officers and soldiers Thursday raided Thailand’s biggest Buddhist temple as they sought to arrest a former abbot charged with money-laundering and other alleged crimes, but they did not catch their man.

Soldiers and officers from the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) scoured 19 sites at the sprawling Wat Dhammakaya, in Khlong Luang district north of Bangkok, after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha issued an order to capture ex-abbot and temple founder Dhammajayo.

The raid marked the third time that authorities failed to capture him despite being armed with several warrants for his arrest.

Police and soldiers surrounded the temple at 3 a.m. and entered the temple grounds at 7:30 a.m., meeting with Phra Sanitwong Wuttiwangso, the temple’s public relations chief.  The search began at 11 a.m. and ended at 4 p.m.

Officials said the search would resume Friday.

“The search went fine … but we do not want people to expect much as we still have several days to work. Today, we tried to keep those not involved in this temple from coming in to this area,” Pol. Col. Krishna Pattanacharoen, deputy national police spokesman told reporters.

Police spokesman Woranan Srilam, who directs the DSI, said Friday’s efforts would be similar.

“Tomorrow will be a search of the rest of the areas. By law, we do not require consent, but in practice, we need to talk to those at the temple,” Woranan said.

“We have not found the wanted person according to the arrest warrant,” he said, adding, “From the information we received, we believe that Dhammajayo is still in the temple area.”

The temple’s public relations officer said he did not know where to find the former abbot.

Devotees pray while sitting in front of a gate after authorities closed the temple to outsiders, Feb. 16, 2017. [BenarNews]

“As I mentioned earlier, monks here and I have not seen him for eight to nine months,” Phra Sanitwong Wuttiwangso told reporters. “But those [followers] came peacefully because they are worried about the temple,” speaking about the crowd outside the temple.

A police official told reporters that officers were able to search about 10 percent to 20 percent of the property that covers almost 1,000 acres.

Theft, money-laundering charges

In March 2016, Supachai Srisupa-aksorn, the former chairman of the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC), pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 16 years for embezzlement totaling more than 22 million baht (U.S. $630,000). Investigators determined that some of the money was linked to the temple.

At the time, DSI investigators told reporters that between March 5, 2009, and Feb. 15, 2011, Dhammajayo, as part of the temple network, received 21 checks from KCUC totaling 1.2 billion baht ($34.4 million).

DSI investigators determined that Dhammajayo allegedly supported Supachai’s embezzlement efforts.

In June 2016, DSI investigators submitted a complaint of theft and money laundering against Dhammajayo and a prosecutor filed an indictment on Nov. 23, 2016.

Police officers prepare to enter the Wat Dhammakaya temple, Feb. 16, 2017. [BenarNews]


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.