BANGKOK — A police operation is underway in the rain Thursday morning at the headquarters of a controversial Buddhist sect whose abbot is wanted on charges of money laundering and receiving embezzled funds in the millions of baht.
Armed with a search warrant approved Wednesday, investigators entered the massive Dhammakaya Temple complex at about 8:30am to arrest its leader Dhammachayo amid worries clashes may break out between police and thousands of the 72-year-old abbot’s faithful followers who are meditating in the temple ground.
Four companies of police are searching the temple for Dhammachayo, who previously refused to surrender himself on May 26, citing illness. The Department of Special Investigation has maintained a presence around his UFO-like temple since, where the entrance had been barricaded by heavy equipment.
Temple spokesman Phra Sanitwong Wutthiwangso said the abbot is still in the temple, receiving treatment from a team of doctors.
“He has not fled anywhere,” Phra Sanitwong said. “We insist that we will fully cooperate with the police in their search.”
Investigators identified Dhammachayo as among those who were directly sent hundreds of checks worth 11 billion baht by the former president of a credit union since convicted of embezzlement.
But Dhammachayo, who is regarded by his followers as a mystic saint, has steadfastly denied the allegations. His ecclesiastical office has said he and other monks were not aware the donations were tainted.
DSI deputy chief Suriya Singhakamol told reporters that his supervisor instructed him to strictly avoid any violence or bloodshed in today’s operation.
“We’d like to ask for cooperation from the disciples,monks and their relatives who are here today,” Suriya said at the temple. “Please let the officers search the interior [of the temple] smoothly.”
It is estimated that at least 10,000 worshipers are inside the Dhammakaya complex. The media are not allowed beyond the entrance area of the temple.
This is a developing story.