BANGKOK — Junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha urged the leader of an influential Buddhist sect to surrender Wednesday, as the deadline for the abbot to surrender came to an end with no sign of him.
Prayuth’s call for the surrender of Dhammakaya’s Abbot Dhammachayo comes six months after he was last seen in public, when another deadline for his surrender on other charges expired. His acolytes said at the time the 72-year-old abbot was confined to his sick bed in the temple headquarters and too ill to meet with police. On Wednesday they declined to confirm his whereabouts.
“The person who did something wrong must come out, so other people won’t get in trouble, and they won’t get hurt. Just come and contest the case,” Gen. Prayuth told reporters. “He shouldn’t use a method of using the masses to contest the case like this. We’ve all seen in the past what happens when you use the mass. We have learned that lesson.”
Ever since an aborted siege of the temple in May, the authorities have labored to avoid any conflict to Dhammachayo to justice. He’s refused to meet with police to answer either the recent land encroachment charges or the previous, long-standing embezzlement case.
The Department of Special Investigation accused the abbot of accepting 1.4 billion baht in checks from a credit union executive now serving a 16-year jail sentence for money laundering. The temple insists Dhammachayo was unaware the money was tainted and the charges politically motivated.
Security forces withdrew from the temple earlier this year under the specter of confrontation. Thousands of the abbot’s followers blocked the entrances in June when officers attempted to search the Wat Dhammakaya complex in northern metro Bangkok. The operation was eventually called off.
The same tactic appears to be back on the table. Maha Nopporn Boonyachayo, a Dhammakaya spokesman, said the temple is organizing a mass merit-making ceremony for His Majesty the Late King Bhumibol in the next few days, which “tens of thousands” of adherents are expected to join.
Nopporn maintained the ceremony had nothing to do with the arrest warrants for Dhammachayo.
The monk also said he does not know whether Dhammachayo is still in the temple, as he has not personally met the abbot since he fell sick.
Gen. Prayuth conceded that the large number of people at the temple would affect a potential operation to arrest the abbot, because security officers want to avoid bloodshed.
“Let me ask you, do you want that to happen?” Prayuth asked reporters. “If you want it to happen, I’ll go today! Give them some time! You have to pressure the person who didn’t follow the laws. Don’t pressure the security officers. If a fight breaks out right at the temple entrance, can society accept that?”
National police commissioner Chakthip Chaijinda said officers are closely monitoring the situation around Wat Dhammakaya, but he did not mention any imminent plan to search the temple compound.