Less standoff, more justice
The confrontation between Department of Special Investigation (DSI) officers and followers of Wat Phra Dhammakaya's abbot wanted in connection to a money-laundering case gripped the nation Thursday, but the showdown was completely uncalled for.
Many people were glued to television and online newsfeeds after DSI officials showed up at the temple in Pathum Thani in the morning with a search warrant to arrest its abbot Phra Dhammajayo.
The 72-year-old monk is wanted under an arrest warrant on charges of money laundering and receiving stolen property worth 1.2 billion baht in relation to the 12-billion-baht embezzlement case at Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative.
Phra Dhammajayo denied the charges through spokesmen but the DSI needs to have him acknowledge the charges and enter the law enforcement process accordingly.
Over the past month, Phra Dhammajayo has refused to meet officials citing illnesses and rejected a proposal to be examined by Medical Council representatives. After setting several preconditions through a series of talks between the temple and the DSI, including a request that the abbot be granted bail immediately and that the chief investigator handling the case be replaced, all still came to naught.
Insisting that they "believe" in the abbot's innocence, supporters of Wat Phra Dhammakaya have taken to barricading the temple's entrances with heavy machinery. At one point when they were concerned the officials might raid the spacious premises in search of the abbot, the followers gathered inside the temple apparently to form a human shield to protect the abbot.
The temple is known for its immense wealth and strong influence over millions of followers. Its defiance of attempts to process the Klongchan embezzlement case in which thousands of people lost what could amount to their lifetime's savings definitely gives an impression that the temple is seeking preferential treatment.
The more Wat Phra Dhammakaya followers -- distinguished for being clad in white and appearing in public in an orderly manner -- try to protect the abbot, the more questions are raised among the public about what he has to hide. Most importantly, by refusing to defend himself through the justice process, Phra Dhammajayo and his temple are suggesting to the public that they are above the law.
When DSI officials arrived at the temple's gate Thursday morning, they were again met with steel barricades and thousands of Wat Phra Dhammakaya devotees chanting in the rain, apparently to obstruct the officers from advancing into the temple. Again, the officials had to negotiate with the temple's monks to execute the search warrant and try to find the suspect. Again, it became obvious that state authorities were prevented from doing their duty by the temple's followers who seem to have taken the law into their own hands.
The temple's administrative monks may have said they were willing to cooperate with the DSI and let the officials search the temple which covers a vast area of more than 190 rai but the difficulties that the DSI had to go through to execute their search and arrest warrants and the rounds of fruitless negotiations, are telling the public otherwise. The temple's continued defiance and use of delaying tactics are being seen as a complete disregard of the justice system, which applies to everyone, monks included.
The DSI and police had to mobilise a great deal of resources including hundreds of officers, fire trucks and ambulances during the operation to capture Phra Dhammajayo. The standoff inevitably put the nation on edge as violence or clashes cannot be ruled out.
The tension is unnecessary as Phra Dhammajayo has always had the option of entering the justice system to defend himself. The abbot should embrace that rightful path.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
Email : email@example.com