Thai security forces filed past chanting monks on Thursday to search the country’s biggest Buddhist temple for an influential former abbot accused of money laundering, but failed to find him.
Police went in hours after PM Prayuth Chan-ocha called upon his Article 44 powers, an article that critics dub “the dictator’s law,” to give forces a free hand in arresting, searching, demolishing doing anything else necessary to apprehend Phra Dhammachayo.
Once the DSI unit reached the abbot’s bedroom in Dao Dueng Monastery, they pulled back his yellow blanket to find only a stack of pillows where the reportedly ill monk was supposed to be.
Phra Sanitwong Wutthiwangso, a PR monk, said that the temple did not intend to “stage” the room to look like Phra Dhammachayo was still in his sick bed, they only covered the bed with a blanket to keep the dust away, according to Sanook.
The still-missing former abbot, 72, faces charges of conspiracy to launder money and receive stolen goods, as well as taking over land unlawfully to build meditation centers. His aides dismiss the accusations as politically motivated.
“He has only done good deeds,” said one 50-year-old devotee who hurried to the temple on hearing of the raid, adding that temple officials had told her not to reveal her name to the media.
“I was one of the people who donated to have this temple built so I’m here to protect it,” she said.
At the temple, police encountered monks in saffron robes, chanting and frequently blocking their way. Several attempts to question the abbot have failed over the past year and this was the first time police had managed to search the temple.
A police spokesman, Woranan Silam, said the search would continue on Friday, after having covered about 15 to 20 percent of the grounds on Thursday.
The monks were willing to cooperate, Phra Sanitwong said.”But I cannot force praying devotees to make way for them.”
He said on Wednesday that the abbot had not been seen since May and had not reported to the police because he was gravely ill.
Story: Reuters/ Sanook