Thai police today failed to arrest an influential Buddhist abbot, accused of embezzling $40 million, as thousands of his followers gathered at a Buddhist temple complex, preventing them from detaining the monk.
The police raided the powerful Wat Dhammakaya temple in northern Bangkok to arrest its 72-year-old abbot, Phra Dhammachayo but the devotees from the controversial Buddhist sect camped outside the sprawling temple complex forcing police to withdraw from the area.
The devotees claimed that the abbot, who leads the largest religious sect in Thailand and has a cult-like following, was too ill to be taken into custody.
Department of Special Investigation (DSI) officials said they could not arrest the abbot because of strong resistance put up by his followers.
The failed bid to enter the wealthy and influential temple was broadcast live on national television.
DSI deputy chief Suriya Singhakamol admitted to reporters that the operation to enter the temple to bring the abbot to hear embezzlement charges at the Criminal Court failed because the abbot’s staunch followers did not allow the officials to go inside.
The abbot is accused of conspiring to launder money by accepting stolen cash from a credit union.
He has barricaded himself inside his temple, ignoring three police summonses and an arrest warrant. He has avoided arrest for over two months, claiming he was too ill to report to police for questioning.
Though police withdrew for the day after the fruitless raid, Suriya said the operation to arrest the abbot would continue but he did not give a time frame.
“Our operation has not ended. The (arrest) warrant is still valid so we will have authority to carry out the operation. According to our information, he is still inside,” he said.
Temple spokesman Phra Sanitwong, said the abbot did not flee from the temple but he was too ill to come out to meet officials.
He said the temple had already cooperated with the DSI.
The abbot and his followers have denied the corruption allegations, claiming they are politically motivated.
Earlier this morning, 600 policemen were put on standby at Klong Luang district office to support the DSI’s search of the Dhammakaya temple.
Police said there were about 8,000 Dhammakya disciples inside the temple.
Several scandals, including trafficking animal parts, in recent years have cast a shadow over the Buddhist clergy in Thailand.