By Max Constant
A wealthy Thai Buddhist temple that foiled two massive police operations last year has denied resisting a legal process against its honorary abbot accused of embezzlement.
Phra Pasura Dantamano, a monk in charge of public relations for the Dhammakaya Temple, professed Monday its willingness to cooperate with authorities.
“As a Buddhist temple, we have always been cooperating with the police and with the authorities. Whenever they make a request, we give our full cooperation,” he told Anadolu Agency.
“But we only ask them to come here to file the charges, because our abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, is an old and sick monk. He is suffering from a blood clot and cannot be moved,” he added.
In June and December last year, around 1,000 police officers encircled the 30-hectare temple -- dotted with huge stupas and prayer halls -- in order to arrest the abbot, who is accused of having received tens of millions of dollars from a financial fund scheme.
The company involved -- the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative -- collapsed in 2013, resulting in financial losses for thousands of fund members.
Both police operations were aborted, with officers apparently backing down from forcing entry into the temple in front of hundreds of followers sitting across the gate and chanting Buddhists mantras.
Last month, police officers in full anti-riot gear only managed to remove a fence before withdrawing after an hours-long standoff.
The controversy has been making headlines for months, with the ruling junta appearing to be unable to tame the temple -- which was founded in 1970 and has become the most powerful and influential in the country.
Besides the embezzlement accusations, numerous other charges have been filed against the temple -- including over alleged encroachment on public land and not abiding by building laws.
On Monday, Dantamano -- a former Thai Airways flight attendant who has been a monk at the temple for 11 years -- denied that followers had attempted to form a “human shield” to block the police.
“People were just chanting. How can you call this a human shield? They were not even talking,” he said.
“These followers had nothing, they had no way to defend themselves, we don’t use violence,” he asserted.
The controversy has become a matter of national concern, and some analysts consider it to have led to a Dec. 29 amendment to the monastic law concerning the appointment procedure of the Thai Buddhist clergy’s leader, or Supreme Patriarch.
The only candidate who fulfilled the conditions for the post was a 90-year-old senior monk, Somdet Chuang, who has close links to the Dhammakaya Temple and was the mentor of Phra Dhammachayo.
His appointment, however, was set aside after he was accused of tax evasion.
The new amendment makes it easier to block his nomination and have another senior appointed.
Dhammakaya has 3,000 monks under its control and hundreds of thousands of lay followers. The temple has branches in over 30 countries. With the backing of some prominent Thai businessmen, it also exerts a strong influence on the country’s official Buddhist hierarchy.