Hundreds of Thai police mass at Dhammakaya temple in bid to arrest wanted abbot

The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) officers (centre, left) and Dhammakaya's Buddhist monks (centre, right) speaking during a press conference at the Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani province, Thailand, on June 16, 2016.
The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) officers (centre, left) and Dhammakaya's Buddhist monks (centre, right) speaking during a press conference at the Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani province, Thailand, on June 16, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

BANGKOK - Policemen on Tuesday (Dec 27) massed outside Thailand’s powerful Dhammakaya temple in an apparent bid to arrest its honorary abbot, who is wanted over an embezzlement case involving billions of baht.

Phra Dhammachayo, who was until early December the temple’s most senior monk, is said to be holed up inside the 320 ha compound just outside Bangkok, although disciples and senior monks said they have not seen him in months.

“The objective of the operation today is to remove anything that is in the way, including fences,” Khempak Photipak, the officer in charge of the police operation, told Reuters.

“We’re waiting for orders about when to raid the temple,” he said, adding that about 750 police had been deployed. 

Temple spokesman Phra Pasura Dantamano told The Straits Times that about 10,000 devotees were taking part in religious activity inside the temple, and more were streaming in after hearing news of the police presence at the temple.

According to Thai media reports, the policemen present were dressed in riot gear, while a truck with loudspeakers – typically used in crowd control situations – have been deployed. 

The police have so far not produced any search warrant, said Phra Pasura at around 11am local time. If they did, the temple will cooperate with the authorities, he said.

“But they would have to convince the devotees themselves,” he added.

Phra Dhammachayo, 72, who is wanted for allegedly receiving money stolen from a credit union, has repeatedly failed to answer police summonses, claiming ill health. 

In June, policemen similarly tried to enter temple compound to arrest the then abbot, but were thwarted by devotees massed inside the compound, and retreated. 

Since then, the fugitive monk has been slapped with additional arrest warrants related to alleged forest encroachment by the temple’s mediation centres in Loei and Nakhon Ratchasima provinces.

Early this month (Dec), he was removed from his post as abbot by Buddhist authorities.

The 46-year-old temple, which has several foreign chapters, counts among its devotees many rich and influential people in Thailand.