We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Thai Buddhist monks pray and gather at Wat Dhammakaya temple. Sakchai Lalit
Monkey Business

Elderly monk on the run as Thai police investigate multi-million euro scam

Police found a 1.5 kilometre tunnel, split into two routes, dug under the UFO-like temple that dominates the site.

THAI POLICE HAVE uncovered secret tunnels running underneath a space-age temple of the controversial Dhammakaya Buddhist sect, as their manhunt for an elusive elderly monk accused of massive embezzlement entered a second day.

Thousands of officers are involved in the search for the 72-year-old monk Phra Dhammachayo, who is believed to be holed up in the vast Wat Dhammakaya temple grounds on the outskirts of Bangkok.

The former abbot, who founded the breakaway Buddhist order in 1970 and has marshalled its prodigious rise, is accused of money laundering and accepting embezzled funds worth $33 million from the jailed owner of a cooperative bank.

But in an increasingly bizarre cat-and-mouse game, cops were frustrated for a second day running as they were led by orange-robed monks through endless rooms and hallways in the 1,000-acre site.

On Thursday, police found a 1.5 kilometre tunnel, split into two routes, dug under the UFO-like temple that dominates the site, which may have been used by the ex-abbot as a place to hide.

Cat and mouse

“It only has one entrance but it does not go outside of the temple,” Police Colonel Worranan Srilum, deputy spokesman for the DSI (Thailand equivalent of the FBI) told reporters.

They also searched a sick bay used by the former abbot, but instead of finding him, they pulled back an orange robe covering several pillows arranged to look like a sleeping person.

“The Dhammakaya temple area is sprawling so it will have to take time to search. We can’t find him yet, but our intelligence insists that he is still inside (the) temple,” he added.

The sweep of the powerful and ultra-rich Wat Dhammakaya temple comes after Thailand’s junta chief invoked special powers to put its sprawling compound under military control.

Temple officials say the ex-abbot is innocent and deny knowledge of his whereabouts.

Thailand’s secular authorities are normally reluctant to intervene in the affairs of the clergy in the Buddhist-majority country.

But the Dhammakaya sect has long been in the firing line. Critics accuse the temple of promoting a pay-your-way to nirvana philosophy, burnished with “cultish” mass shows of devotion and a sophisticated PR machine.

The temple is also mired in the kingdom’s treacherous politics, with rumoured links to ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup and still hated by the Bangkok elite and their military allies.

© – AFP 2017

Read: Putin apologises after Russian air strike accidentally kills three Turkish soldiers

Read: ‘Do you speak Arabic?’: How the US bungled its online fight against IS

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.