DTAC's Boonchai accused of breaking law

DTAC's Boonchai accused of breaking law

Boonchai Bencharongkul, the founder of Thailand's second-largest mobile operator DTAC, may have broken the law when he called on disciples of Phra Dhammajayo to “practice Dhamma” at Wat Phra Dhammakaya and protect the abbot from a “smear campaign”, a former National Reform Council member said on Sunday.

Paiboon Nititawan, the former chairman of the defunct NRC committee on religious affairs, told Daily News Online that the billionaire’s remarks could be construed as a violation of Article 189 of the Criminal Code. The legal section prohibits people from helping a culprit or alleged offender to avoid punishment and carries a two-year jail term and a 4,000 baht fine.

Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd on Sunday warned leading figures who are members of Wat Phra Dhammakaya to stop encouraging followers to gather at the temple as it could be illegal and the crowds could prevent law enforcers from doing their duty. 

DTAC founder Boonchai Bencharongkul, who is chairman of the company. (Photo by Pawat Laopaisarntaksin)

Mr Boonchai made his call on Friday on “Kao Clear, Clear Kao Chad”, a programme broadcast on DMC, the satellite TV run by the temple. His remarks drew outrage from critics of Dhammakaya and others who have demanded temple staff and followers cooperate with law enforcement officials.     

Mr Paiboon said Mr Boonchai’s call came as Department of Special Investigation officials were working on a plan to search the Pathum Thani temple to locate Phra Dhammajayo after their first attempt failed on Thursday. The call could be regarded as an attempt to help the suspect, especially if the gathering at the temple proved not to be held for religious purposes. 

The 62-year-old DTAC founder could also face charges of violating the Public Assembly Act if temple critics file a complaint with police, he said. The public assembly law requires rally organisers to inform police at least 24 hours in advance of planned demonstrations.

A number of people have posted on DTAC's Facebook page expressing anger at Mr Boonchai's call and threatening to cancel their subscriptions and move to other mobile phone operators. The page's administrator put up a message saying the company was not involved in political and religious affairs and that Mr Boonchai’s comments were a personal opinion that had nothing to do with company policies.      

Phra Dhammajayo is wanted on charges of money-laundering and receiving stolen property worth 1.2 billion baht in connection with the 12-billion-baht Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative embezzlement case. 

On Thursday, 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.


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