Thai abbot to be probed over massive donations

Dhammakaya Temple's abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, will have to explain to the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) how he came to receive massive donations from the embezzlement-plagued Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative.

"The money was transferred to the abbot's personal bank account," Pol Lt-Colonel Somboon Sarasit, who heads the DSI's Special Crime 3 Bureau, said yesterday.

During his time as the cooperative's chairman, Supachai Srisupaaksorn issued 15 cheques with a combined value of more than Bt800 million (S$33.7 million) for Dhammakaya Temple and Phra Dhammachayo.

Investigations show the temple and the abbot cashed 13 of the cheques, receiving more than Bt700 million from the cooperative.

Nearly half of the amount went to Phra Dhammachayo, said Somboon.

Supachai and several other former executives are now accused of embezzling more than Bt12 billion from the cooperative. More than 10,000 people have suffered as a result of the embezzlement.

In the wake of the scandal, Phra Dhammachayo and the temple this year said they would return the money to the cooperative. Their promise has not, however, resulted in the authorities easing up on the attention they are giving to the two.

Somboon yesterday said that just like other recipients of the cooperative's money, Phra Dhammachayo would be summoned for questioning.

"For the time being, we are waiting for evidence from financial institutions," he said. "After this, we will summon them."

The DSI has found that in addition to Dhammakaya Temple and related figures, Supachai also gave the cooperative's money to other parties, including SW Holding Group and its director Sathaporn Wattanasirikul, and Mongkol Setthee Credit Union Limited.

Besides the current issue, Phra Dhammachayo is already embroiled in much controversy. But he has never commented.

Paiboon Nititawan, who chairs the National Reform Council's committee on the protection of Buddhism, has also spoken up about a 1999 statement of the then-Supreme Patriarch that suggested Dhammachayo be defrocked over an embezzlement case.

The Sangha Supreme Council (SSC), meanwhile, has decided to set up a panel to monitor work related to the reform and protection of Buddhism in the wake of the NRC's decision to form the Paiboon-headed committee.

According to the SSC resolution that was made on February 20, but only publicly released yesterday, the panel will report to the SSC. It has six members, four of whom also sit on the SSC.

The SSC has lately also faced much pressure after news reports, which were later dismissed, said it had ruled in favour of Phra Dhammachayo on February 20.

According to a now-released statement, the SSC only resolved to acknowledge a report by the National Office of Buddhism on Phra Dhammachayo's case, and did not issue any ruling on the matter.

The report gave details on what the office presented to the panel.

This week, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam publicly said the SSC should release the statement on its resolutions in order to clear public doubt.

The uproar has threatened to cause a divide among monks and other Buddhists, with some monks having already come forward to express different opinions.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha did not directly mention the matter during his weekly TV programme.

But he said: "As for the sensitive issue of religious affairs, Deputy PM Wissanu and PM's Office Minister Suwaphan [Tanyuvardhana] have been tasked with studying the nature of the problem.

"I would rather not use the words 'conflicting parties' because of the religious nature of the issue. However, the state has the responsibility to tackle legal violations, whether related to finances and whatnot."