The Department of Special Investigation will renew efforts to arrest the elusive Phra Dhammajayo, former abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, after Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin ordered the DSI to step up its investigation in the multi-billion-baht Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC) embezzlement case.
The 75-year-old monk is wanted for alleged laundering of money and receiving stolen property in connection with the scandal. Previous DSI-led operations in 2016 and 2017 failed to nab him.
Mr Somsak wants the DSI to “speed up and follow up” the investigation into the embezzlement, which involves monks at Wat Phra Dhammakaya and the temple-linked Khun Yay Maha Ratana Upasika Chandra Khonnokyoong Foundation, DSI chief Paisit Wongmuang said on Monday.
“I have called a meeting with state agencies on the case on Aug 2,” he said.
Authorities will discuss leads they hope will lead them to Phra Dhammajayo’s hideout, and will review the temple's management.
It was initially believed the former abbot was living in the temple compound in Pathum Thani’s Klong Luang district, but all searches failed to locate him and he was believed to have slipped away. Fresh information reportedly suggests he might have fled abroad.
Mr Somsak’s attention to the long-running, high-profile KCUC case comes after reporters asked him on July 19 whether he was worried about the outstanding legal action against Phra Dhammajayo. The minister is known to have been a disciple of the disgraced former abbot and to have made merit at the temple.
He refused to comment, saying only that he would stick to the law.
The KCUC scandal erupted when the cooperative's former chairman, Supachai Srisupa-aksorn, confessed to the embezzlement of the credit union's funds between 2009 and 2013, which affected all 50,000 members.
He was accused of siphoning off a total of 12 billion baht and transferring 932 million baht to Phra Dhammajayo and some monks under the Wat Phra Dhammakaya network, as well as the foundation, which allegedly used the money to finance the construction of a globe-shaped building inside the temple.
The scandal's return to the spotlight follows a report that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who chairs the DSI’s Special Cases Commission, will oversee the agency directly.
“That should be good,” Mr Somsak responded. The prime minister’s supervision would enable the DSI to work with other agencies more easily, he said.