BANGKOK - Followers of a mega temple in Thailand appeared locked in a stalemate with investigators after officers arrived on Thursday morning (June 16) to meet its fugitive abbot, who is accused of accepting cash stolen from a credit union.
Officers from the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), who arrived at Wat Phra Dhammakaya with a search warrant sometime past 9am local time, were confronted by a sea of lay followers dressed in white, sitting shoulder to shoulder within the compound.
They had been massing there for the days in support of 72-year-old abbot Phra Dhammachayo, who is wanted under an arrest warrant issued on May 17.
Temple spokesman Phra Sanitwong Wutthiwangso, in a joint press conference with a DSI official shortly after, promised to give the investigators full cooperation.
But the followers did not yield. An unidentified representative, speaking into a microphone, said: “We want to see him judged under democratic rule.”
Thailand has been ruled by a military government since the coup in May 2014.
At about 10.30am, Phra Sanitwong was seen getting into a van with DSI officers, heading for an unknown destination.
Earlier, the DSI had revealed that the search warrant is valid for only one day.
Phra Dhammachayo has been linked to Supachai Srisupa-aksorn, the former chief of Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative, who was jailed for 16 years in March this year for his role in an embezzlement case involving more than 11 billion baht (S$425 million) from the organisation.
The DSI says that Supachai wrote cheques worth more than one billion baht to various parties linked to the temple, but the temple argues that it is inappropriate to question the source of donations.
The abbot has declined to leave the temple to hear the charges, citing various ailments including deep vein thrombosis that his doctors say could be fatal. But he has not sought medical attention outside the temple.
Security has been tight at the 320-ha temple, which has some 2,000 live-in monks