Thai police empty-handed so far in search for prominent monk

February 17, 2017

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai police who unsuccessfully searched a vast Buddhist temple for a prominent monk accused of financial wrongdoing said Friday they will arrest him whenever and wherever they can.

About 3,000 police who raided the Dhammakaya sect temple north of Bangkok spent a second day in vain seeking its chief, Phra Dhammajayo, who is accused of accepting $40 million in embezzled money.

Aside from finding a room on Thursday with medical equipment that was said to have belonged to the elusive monk, their search has proved fruitless. Dhammajayo has not been seen in public since his 72nd birthday last April, and his fellow senior monks have been unclear about his whereabouts, suggesting he may still be at the temple but insisting they have not seen him in months. Since first being summoned by police early last year, he has repeatedly pleaded illness for his failure to turn himself in.

Dhammajayo has been charged with money-laundering and receiving stolen property. His defenders say he did not know the money was tainted. 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 has military government.

The head of the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand’s FBI, told reporters that if Dhammajayo is not found in three days at the temple, they will continue to pursue him because the charges won’t expire for 15 years.

“Once we have inspected every building and every suspected part, if that is done, then we will re-evaluate the situation again,” Paisit Wongmuang said Friday. “If we do not get him today, whenever we know where he is, we can still arrest him for prosecution.”

Paisit said the discovery that Dhammajayo was not present in the room with the medical equipment proved that his claim of being too sick to appear was false — that finding a patient’s bed without a patient in it proved he was mobile.

Police said they inspected an underground tunnel at the temple suspected to be an escape route but found it was a water pump facility.

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