Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha took effective control of Wat Phra Dhammakaya with an overnight Section 44 decree - opening the temple to immediate assault.
Just before dawn, soldiers and police surrounded the temple compound in Pathum Thani province, in apparent preparation for a raid.
The three-page Section 44 order (text of key section below) signed by Gen Prayut authorises virtually any police or military action against Wat Phra Dhammakaya.
It said that Article 44 of the interim constitution was being used to impose control on the monastery because it had resisted law enforcement efforts.
"This calls for some measures to be put in place in order to control the area temporarily for effective law enforcement and peace in the country", said the document published in the Royal Gazette.
The founder of the Dhammakaya religious sect, who calls himself Phra Dhammajayo, is believed to be hiding inside the temple. He is wanted on several outstanding warrants for charges including embezzlement, money laundering and land encroachment by the temple and its other businesses in the provinces.
The order followed a meeting on Wednesday of Provincial Police Region 1 and the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) held a closed-door meeting to plan a fresh raid on the temple as early as early Thursday, a police source says.
The raid may also involve military troops although the army initially said they had absolutely no idea such an operation was taking place.
That denial was despite a photograph of the army commander and the 1st Division commander in discussion late Wednesday.
However, a military source said the raid could begin early Thursday, with soldiers helping to cordon off supporters who might try to block the operation.
Army commander Chalermchai Sittisart (left) was seen late Wednesday in deep discussions with 1st Army commander Lt Gen Apirat Kongsompong - who denied he knew anything about plans for an early raid on the temple. (Photo by Wassana Nanuam)
The police source said Region 1 deputy police chief Sombat Milinthajinda met with the DSI officials behind closed doors to discuss a planned raid Wednesday. No military representatives joined the meeting.
The meeting was looking at launching the raid within 12 hours.
The source added the raid would proceed on the charge of the temple encroaching on public land by building a structure over a public waterway.
However, it was unclear if the raid was also motivated by authorities’ attempts to bring the temple’s former abbot, Phra Dhammajayo, to face charges in connection with the multi-billion-baht Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative embezzlement scandal.
The source said authorities were assessing the risk of conducting the raid. They were considering whether the temple has mobilised supporters to act as human shields which could lead a potentially violent confrontation.
Before Wednesday's police-DSI meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon dismissed media reports that authorities were planning a new raid at the temple to catch Phra Dhammajayo.
Prime Minister Prayut signed the three-page Section 44 order, and it was published early Thursday in the Royal Gazette.