Acting abbot of controversial Thai temple will face arrest

PHOTO: The Straits Times

Police will seek an arrest warrant for the acting abbot of Dhammakaya Temple after he failed to show up at Pathum Thani's Thanyaburi Provincial Court yesterday afternoon to apply for bail, a source said.

The acting abbot, identified as Phra Thammayanwites (Sutham Suthammo), had surrendered to Klong Luang Police on Tuesday to answer charges of harbouring the fugitive former abbot Phra Dhammachayo and neglecting to perform his duties as per the summonses.

The monk has to ask the court for bail or he could lose his saffron robes and face prosecution as a layperson, Department of Special Investigation (DSI)'s Pisitchai Sawangwattanakorn said.

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Deputy national police chief Pol General Srivara Ransibrahamakul yesterday led a team of officials to inspect World Peace Muktawan monastic retreats in Phang Nga's Koh Yao district.

Phases 1, 2 and 3 of the retreats, which are linked to the Dhammakaya Temple, were impounded pending investigation over their alleged encroachment into the Kuanjuk national forest.

Srirava said that 82 buildings at the three retreats had been built without permission and authorities would proceed with legal action accordingly.

He said Phang Nga land officials would also be probed as soon as possible.

He said the Dhammakaya Temple network had allegedly encroached on at least 20 sites nationwide in the same manner.

The three retreats were impounded along with its electricity poles and radio station pending further probes.

The deputy police chief, accompanied by police adviser Pol General Decha Chuaibunchum and related officials, said an investigation by the Natural Resources and Environmental Crime Suppression Division found that the Dhammakaya Foundation, chaired by Phra Dhammachayo, owned the 140-rai World Peace Muktawan 1 retreat.

However, about 40 rai of the retreat - comprising a 21-rai section located on the national forest and another 19-rai woodland - reportedly does not have proper land-ownership documents and has allegedly caused damages worth Bt2.7 million.

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The retreat claimed to have Nor Sor 3 Kor land-rights documents for its 33 plots covering 140 rais - of which 28 plots were held by the foundation, four by a native of Loei's Phu Rua named Phetch Kaensap and one by a woman called Nuanit Hongwiwat.

Srivara said the land-ownership document for Phetch's 14-rai plot had been revoked since 2004 and Phetch was also the foundation's nominee who was linked to other forestland encroachment cases, such as the World Peace Valley Loei monastic retreat.

Police also found 18 buildings in the Muktawan 1 compound, where a helicopter pad was reportedly torn down recently.

Srivara said he instructed forestry officials to check if the Tambon Koh Yao Administrative Organisation's permission for the retreat to clear the area and construct buildings was legal and also check on the retreat's tax payments.

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He also revealed that officials found a 2-rai plot had changed many hands until it came into the foundation's ownership and mysteriously enlarged to more than 15 rai.

As the foundation reportedly sold "Dhamma-practice" packages for between Bt1,900 and Bt5,900, it fell within the framework of using forestland for personal gain, Srivara said, adding that the Revenue Department would also look into the foundation's tax payments.

He said the 162-rai Muktawan 2 retreat was under Phetch's name and 82 rai of it allegedly encroached on the national forest, resulting in damages worth Bt5.6 million, while the 100-rai Muktawan 3 retreat allegedly encroached on 44 rai of the forest resulting in damages worth Bt3 million.