World

Police raid controversial Thai temple

BANGKOK: Thai police entered a scandal-hit Buddhist temple yesterday to search for a monk wanted over a multimillion-dollar scam.

The sweep of the powerful Wat Dhammakaya temple comes after Thailand's junta chief invoked special powers to put its sprawling 404ha compound under military control.

The junta is desperate to avoid clashes with clergy and previous attempts to raid the temple were thwarted after thousands of devotees showed up to defend Phra Dhammachayo, 72, the monk who founded the breakaway Buddhist order in 1970.

The former abbot is believed to be holed up inside the temple, but has not been seen in public for months.

Police issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of money laundering and accepting embezzled funds worth 1.2 billion baht (S$48 million).

Thousands of unarmed police and soldiers were bussed into the site before dawn yesterday, locking down roads.

The operation followed a sudden order endorsed by junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha that gave authorities power to block the entrance.

After an hours-long standoff, police managed to enter one gate and cut the lock off on another. But other entrances were barricaded by seated monks and supporters.

"The Dhammakaya temple has allowed police and Department of Special Investigation (DSI) officials to carry out a search inside the temple for the suspect," the head of the DSI told reporters before entering the compound.

NO CONFIRMATION

Speaking to media outside the temple, a Dhammakaya spokesman said he could not confirm whether the spiritual leader was inside.

Temple staff have previously said the former abbot is innocent but too ill to be questioned by police. - AFP

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