BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thailand authorities have given the abbot of a powerful temple an ultimatum - surrender or face arrest.
The ultimatum was given by the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to Phra Dhammachayo, the 72-year-old abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, after he repeatedly defied orders to appear before investigators overseeing a major fraud case.
"An arrest warrant for him has been issued. Officials can raid (the temple) and arrest him to enforce the warrant," DSI deputy chief Police Lieutenant-Colonel Somboon Sarasit said on Tuesday after talks to arrange for Phra Dhammachayo's surrender collapsed.
The abbot is accused of conspiring to launder money by accepting cash stolen from a credit union. His followers, however, claim they are victims of a conspiracy to tar the temple's reputation.
The case centres on Supachai Srisupa-aksorn, who was jailed for 16 years in March for his role in an embezzlement case involving more than 11 billion baht (S$425 million) from Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative, which he used to head.
DSI officials said Supachai made out cheques worth more than 1 billion baht to various parties linked to the temple. Temple officials said it is inappropriate to question the source of the numerous donations the temple receives.
An earlier arrest warrant issued on May 17 was not heeded by the abbot, citing various ailments, including deep vein thrombosis, which his doctors said would be life-threatening if he travelled too far. He has not sought medical attention outside the temple.
The DSI has been trying to dispatch neutral doctors to check the monk's condition, but so far he has not yet allowed himself to be examined.
It is not clear if the fresh arrest warrant pointed to a planned raid of the temple soon, or just sabre-ratlling by the investigators.
Two weeks ago, in an apparent compromise, the abbot agreed to hear the charges at a police station near the temple, but did not show up. The temple later announced that he had fainted while being moved from his bed to an ambulance.
The DSI wants Phra Dhammachayo to surrender and acknowledge the charges of money laundering and accepting ill-gotten gains.
The expansive grounds of the futuristic looking temple were shown on Thai media in recent weeks to have been installed with new security cameras and barbed wire fencing to prevent intrusions.
The talks held on Tuesday to break the impasse were between the DSI, the National Buddhism Office and Phra Theprattanasutee, the monastic chief of Pathum Thani province. Phra Theprattanasutee was asked to help because Dhammakaya Temple is under his jurisdiction.