Thai temple under probe not returning donations

Thai temple under probe not returning donations
A Buddhist monk prays at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani province, north of Bangkok before a ceremony on Makha Bucha Day March 4.

THE Dhammakaya Temple has never had any plans to return the Bt600 million (S$25 million) to Bt800 million it received in donations back to the Klong Chan Credit Union , a lawyer for the temple's abbot said yesterday.

Samphan Sermcheep, who represents Phra Dhammachayo, suggested that any reports about the temple promising to return the money allegedly embezzled from the credit union cooperative may have stemmed from the Dhammakaya followers' proposal that some remedy should be offered to the affected members.

"The money can't be returned because the temple has already spent it on the construction of religious structures," Samphan said, as he showed up at the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) to answer questions on behalf of Phra Dhammachayo.

The DSI is looking into Dhammakaya Temple's financial transactions after evidence suggested that the temple, its abbot and other monks received more than Bt800 million from the cooperative in donations arranged by Supachai Srisupa-aksorn.

Supachai, a former president of the cooperative, has been charged with embezzling more than Bt10 billion from the cooperative.

The DSI summoned Phra Dhammachayo to testify yesterday, but Samphan showed up instead with a written request that the abbot's meeting with the DSI be postponed to March 26.

"He has health problems, including diabetes. He also needs time to compile related documents," Samphan explained.

According to the lawyer, available records show the temple received 13 cheques worth Bt684 million and Phra Dhammachayo never saw these cheques because donations are always presented to him in a bag and then passed on to the temple's finance team.

"The cheques were cashed by the finance team," he said.

Asked whether Phra Dhammachayo was worried about the cooperative's members, Samphan said the abbot made no comments because he was not involved in donation management.

Pol Lt-Colonel Pakorn Suchee-wakul, who heads a DSI team |probing the temple's transactions, said yesterday that Phra Dhammachayo will have to report to the DSI in person because many cheques clearly identified him as the recipient.

In addition to the temple, records show that many other people received funds from the cooperative in a questionable manner. Among those who received these funds is Phra Khru Paladwijahn, the abbot of Wang Hua Waen Temple, who also did not respond to the DSI's summons on Monday.

When a DSI team went to the temple to hand over a second summons, the abbot was nowhere to be seen and other monks at the temple did not want to accept the summons on his behalf because they said they could not get in touch with the abbot either.

In a related development, Padej Mungthanya - who is now serving as president of the Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative - yesterday demanded that the Agriculture Ministry take responsibility after a fistfight erupted inside the ministry's compound on Monday during a meeting on how to help members of the cooperative.

Some members were enraged at the possibility of having lost their money.

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