Police at Thai temple step up hunt for monk wanted for money laundering

Police at Thai temple step up hunt for monk wanted for money laundering

Police in Thailand sent fresh forces to a Buddhist temple on Sunday hunting for a monk accused of money laundering.

Around 3,000 police have been outside the Dhammakaya sect temple north of Bangkok to confront followers and monks at the gate of the huge compound.

Meanwhile, smaller squads of police searched for its chief, Phra Dhammajayo, who is accused of accepting 40 million dollars in embezzled money.

Security forces and Dhammajayo's followers had gathered in growing numbers at the temple on Sunday after the Department of Special Investigation - Thailand's FBI - ordered all people not living there to leave. Numbers on both sides were difficult to estimate.

Sunday's stand-off ended peacefully, with the police forces withdrawing shortly after dark.

Dhammajayo has been charged with money laundering and receiving stolen property. His defenders claim he did not know the money was stolen.

Some devotees believe his legal troubles are politically motivated because the temple and its followers are seen as supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup. Thailand had another coup in 2014 and currently has a military government.

The police are operating under an emergency order issued on Thursday by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha allowing them to short-cut normal legal procedures with broad powers to search property and arrest people.

They have sought to block people from entering the temple, but many seemed to have got through on Sunday after senior monks issued statements suggesting the temple was under threat.

Police also issued summonses for more than a dozen senior monks, including Dhammajayo - who has not been seen in public for months - to present themselves at the local police station.

"Our hearts break because we love Buddhism. We can die, but Buddhism, never," said Dhammakaya devotee Manoj Hemprommaraj. "We will protect our temple, (even) if we die."

AP

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