New raid planned to nab former abbot

New raid planned to nab former abbot

Temple to be declared strictly controlled area

The DSI, police and Ministry of Justice have studied photos of Wat Phra Dhammakaya from the air, and believe they they establish an army cordon to control temple disciples while conducting a surprise raid. (File photos)
The DSI, police and Ministry of Justice have studied photos of Wat Phra Dhammakaya from the air, and believe they they establish an army cordon to control temple disciples while conducting a surprise raid. (File photos)

Authorities are preparing to declare Wat Phra Dhammakaya a strictly controlled area in order to facilitate a new raid which will be carried out by special investigation officers, police and soldiers.

The planned raid will aim to arrest the temple's former abbot Phra Dhammajayo who is wanted on charges related to the multi-billion-baht Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative embezzlement scandal.

The move came after the Department of Special Investigation (DSI), Justice Ministry experts and police investigators met on Monday to analyse aerial images of Wat Phra Dhammakaya taken by the DSI for use as evidence with which to pursue criminal cases against the temple and the former abbot.

A source at the Justice Ministry said Tuesday Pol Gen Dechnarong Suthichanbancha, deputy national police chief, has been assigned by police chief Chakthip Chaijinda to lead the new raid on the temple.

In a previous operation dealing with the temple and the ex-abbot, deputy national police chief Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul was assigned as its leader. But police still failed to enter the temple to search for the ex-abbot.

A number of soldiers from the 1st Army have been assigned to cordon off the temple and prevent the temple's disciples from entering the premises once the raid begins; while police have been assigned to force followers of Phra Dhammajayo who are said still living inside the temple to leave.

"It may be necessary to declare Wat Phra Dhammakaya a strictly controlled area for the operation, while all concerned units in the combined force have been notified to prepare to form up within 12 hours [when ordered to] and then move to the target within six hours," he said.

It remains unknown when exactly the planned raid will be carried out.

DSI director-general Paisit Wongmuang, meanwhile, said authorities were still in the process of assessing their readiness for the new mission to raid the temple given that it is not certain when a new search warrant needed for the raid will be sought.

Pol Gen Srivara said that after analysis of the temple's aerial images, it was found that the temple made up only 5% of the area's grounds, with the remaining 95% used for the Dhammakaya Foundation.

He declined to go into further detail about the images and the progress of the investigations into the temple and its ex-abbot, saying only that the images will be used as evidence to prosecute the temple.

So far, Klong Luang police in Pathum Thani have been pursuing a total of 175 criminal cases against Wat Phra Dhammakaya and its people, 16 of which concern alleged violations of the Forest Act, 20 with alleged violations of the Land Transport Act and another 127 with alleged violations of the building control law.

Several hundred police and DSI officials surrounded the temple in December in an apparent attempt to move in and arrest the former abbot, who was believed to be in hiding there. But officials ended their operation after only removing barriers preventing access to the temple gates.

At that time up to four search warrants were issued for the operation but they were not actually used.

This followed the DSI's first futile attempt to arrest the monk at the temple on June 16 after disciples gathered en masse and blocked authorities from entering.

Following the aborted operation in December, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said the DSI and police will have to tread carefully in handling the issue to avoid unrest.

He added that he did not give them a deadline.

"When the time is right, they will execute the arrest warrants. There is no need to rush. We can predict what they want, so we do not want to walk straight into their trap. It's the government's job to control the situation," Gen Prayut said at that time.

Both Gen Prayut and his deputy, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, later emphasised that they do not want to see violence in the handling of Phra Dhammajayo case.

Recently, the embattled monk was confronted with a new arrest warrant for forest encroachment after it was deemed Wat Dhammakaya's Muktawan meditation area sits in a protected forest of Phangnga's Ko Yao district. This took the total number of arrest warrants out for him to four.

In December, the embattled ex-abbot was relieved of duty and responsibility as the head of Wat Phra Dhammakaya and he appointed the honorary abbot of the temple in his place.

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