Govt raps Dhammakaya temple 'politics'

Govt raps Dhammakaya temple 'politics'

Call for democracy return stirs NCPO ire

Followers of Phra Dhammajayo conduct normal acitivities at Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Khlong Luang district in Pathum Thani on Friday. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)
Followers of Phra Dhammajayo conduct normal acitivities at Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Khlong Luang district in Pathum Thani on Friday. (Photo by Apichit Jinakul)

Followers of the Dhammakaya temple have been warned not to "politicise" the legal case against abbot Phra Dhammajayo as a former close aide to the abbot has claimed the temple is lobbying the prosecution to drop the money-laundering case.

National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) spokesman Col Piyapong Klinpan said on Friday the Phra Dhammakaya temple's "true leanings" became clear when its followers cited a lack of democracy as an excuse to defy the law.

This demonstrated the temple has a political agenda, Col Piyapong said, referring to a statement issued on Thursday by temple followers that the abbot should surrender to police only after democracy has been fully restored in the country. They said he would not receive justice under the current regime.

Col Piyapong also said intelligence reports indicated that Dhammakaya followers and monks were brought in from other regions, including the Northeast, to join in Thursday's gathering at the temple.

Authorities are examining the temple's money trail and sources of financial support, he added.

Col Winthai Suvaree, another NCPO spokesman, said that temple disciples were trying to distract public attention from the legal case against Phra Dhammajayo, who is accused of involvement in laundering money and receiving stolen property worth 1.2 billion baht in connection with the 12-billion-baht embezzlement at the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative.

"The NCPO did not want the issue to be politicised because the temple itself had announced it was not involved in politics," Col Winthai said.

Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya also dismissed the temple devotees' argument that Phra Dhammajayo would cooperate with authorities and turn himself in to face charges only after democracy has returned to the country.

Mano Laohavanich, a former National Reform Council member, claimed on Friday he had received information that Wat Phra Dhammakaya is trying to lobby the prosecution to drop the money-laundering case against Phra Dhammajayo.

Dr Mano was a former top-ranking monk at Wat Phra Dhammakaya and a former close aide to Phra Dhammajayo.

The DSI decided to forward the indictment of the abbot along with four others to the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) in the money-laundering case. The OAG will decide on July 13 whether to indict the five suspects.

Gen Paiboon said that the issue was now being politicised, even though the money-laundering case had nothing to do with politics. "Excuses differ from day to day," the justice minister said.

He insisted that the DSI operation to search the temple and arrest Phra Dhammajayo was not a failure as they followed instructions to avoid violence.

He also said that DSI investigators were considering whether gatherings should be allowed in the temple as the way that Wat Phra Dhammakaya followers congregated at the temple on Thursday showed they were not there for religious practices.

"There was obstruction and barbed-wire barriers were erected. Some of the followers covered their faces with cloth. This showed they wanted to obstruct the arrest of the abbot. I told the director-general of the DSI to report that to the court," Gen Paiboon said.

He was commenting on the crowds of white-clad devotees who gathered in the compound of Wat Phra Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani province on Thursday after DSI officers attempted to serve a warrant to search the temple and arrest the abbot, but faced peaceful resistance by numerous followers who sat praying and blocking them from entering the temple.

Pakorn Sucheevakun, the DSI's director for financial and banking crimes, said that DSI officials had already filed complaints with police against temple disciples for obstructing officers from performing their duty and for an illegal gathering.

Paiboon Nititawan, the former chairman of the defunct National Reform Council committee on religious affairs, said the temple followers' statement revealed the temple's "true colours".

The temple had insisted that it had nothing to do with politics, but its followers still cited a lack of democracy as a reason for the abbot to refuse to surrender to police, Mr Paiboon said.

"This shows Phra Dhammajayo and Wat Phra Dhammakaya have certain connections with certain political parties or politicians," Mr Paiboon said.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said that the argument of the temple's followers was unreasonable.

"Nobody can make any excuses to delay the case or obstruct authorities' attempt to execute the search and arrest warrants," Mr Wissanu said.

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