PATHUM THANI — Leaders of the controversial Buddhist sect Dhammakaya relented on Thursday to a search operation to look for its fugitive former abbot, a chief investigator of the Ministry of Justice said.
Hours after a junta order designated the grounds of the temple headquarters a controlled area, the director of the Department of Special Investigation – which accuses the sect leader of money laundering – said his teams had started searching the temple with Wat Dhammakaya’s permission.
“We already started searches around Gate 8. We have divided our teams in different zones,” Paisit Wongmuang told reporters in front of the temple’s main entrance at about 11am. “We will search every gate. One by one.”
He said the decision was jointly made between the police and leading monks of Wat Dhammakaya.
Dhammachayo, who is currently serving as honorable abbot of his sect, is charged with money laundering for receiving millions in donations from a fund embezzled from a cooperative union. His followers say Dhammachayo was not aware the money was tainted.
However, as of Thursday noon, police had yet to enter the temple via other gates. Instead, they were either sitting under tree shades or tents, watching the locked entrances from a distance.
At Gate 6 of the sprawling temple complex in Pathum Thani, scores of temple followers gathered around the sealed entrance to meditate and pray. Policemen sat on plastic chairs and quietly faced the chanting worshipers.
A number of masked men were also observing and taking photos of the police from inside the temple compound.
Speaking behind the temple fence, Dhammakaya worshiper Phongsri Charlamsiri said she and others were there to “protect our abbot.”
“I don’t know much about the details of the charges, but Luang Por is a good man,” said Phongsiri, who said she has been with the temple for 15 years. “He is much blessed. Holy entities will protect him. He is the true monk.”
She said she is already familiar with the standoff; it’s the second time she has sat down to pray in face of besieging DSI officials who have attempted to enter the temple.
Officials have stressed that their priority is to avoid bloodshed. Deputy junta chairman Prawit Wongsuwan said the authorities will refrain from violent confrontation.
“We don’t want to see losses,” Gen Prawit told reporters Thursday at Government House. “But we have to be clear: The laws must be enforced. If we don’t enforce the laws, we will be criticized, too.”