By Max Constant
BANGKOK (AA) - A Thai Buddhist monk accused of embezzling millions of dollars from a finance company failed to meet a Thursday deadline to turn himself into police, as his spokesman claimed he had fainted when boarding a minivan organized to drive him to the police station.
Ongart Thamnita, a spokesman for Wat Dhammakaya, the temple of which Phra Dhammachayo is the abbot, said his face had turned pale as he was boarding a van that would take him to the police station -- where he has been expected for several weeks.
“Dhammachayo agrees to follow the judicial process and report to the police, but his doctors advised him against moving around,” he told reporters.
Police waiting at the Khlong Luang police station close to the temple said that they would “take action” if the monk does not report, but after waiting a few hours Kajornsok Phuttathanupap, a Department of Special Investigations spokesman, said they would meet Friday morning to decide what course of action to now take.
Phra Dhammachayo is accused of having received over $30 million from a credit cooperative that collapsed, leaving hundreds of members ruined.
Police have been asking him to report for several weeks, but the 72-year-old has missed all deadlines, with his representatives saying he suffers severe thrombosis and cannot leave a special room where several doctors take care of him within the temple compound in Pathum Thani province, 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of Bangkok.
Last week, the Bangkok criminal court issued an arrest warrant and the department of special investigations specified May 26 as the deadline for the monk to report to police.
On Thursday afternoon, Dhammakaya temple tweeted that “Phra Dhammachayo is heading [to the police station] by an ambulance”, and asked that monks, staff and supporters calmly make their way to the police station in a show of unity
Phra Dhammachayo did not arrive, and Thamnita later claimed the monk fainted.
Dhammakaya is by far the wealthiest and the most influential Buddhist temple in the country. It exerts control over hundreds of temples nationwide and has 85 overseas branches in 33 countries.
The temple, founded in 1972 by Phra Dhammachayo and a group of nuns and monks, has been mired in controversy since the mid-1990s.
It has been accused of propagating a materialist version of the Buddha teaching, and preaching that practicing meditation properly helps followers to enrich themselves. It also uses multi-level marketing techniques to attract followers, affording special status to those who bring the most followers to the temple.
Dhammachayo, a self-confessed admirer of Adolf Hitler, has also been accused of accumulating assets and money.
Thai authorities have been dealing cautiously with the issue, however, because of the popularity of Dhammachayo and the Dhammakaya temple among the urban middle classes.
Junta leader-cum-prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha warned Wednesday that the case could “lead to conflicts”.
“Don’t let this case cause a split among Buddhists,” he underlined.
“The government does not side with any party. My request is that there should be no attempt to incite people to fight each other.”