By Max Constant
BANGKOK (AA) - A controversial and very wealthy Buddhist temple has accused Thai police of unfair treatment in a case in which its abbot is alleged to have illegally siphoned millions from a credit cooperative, local media reported Wednesday.
Ong-art Thamnitha, leader of a Wat Dhammakaya followers group told a press conference within the temple’s compound, “all Dhammakaya followers are saddened that the Department of Special Investigation has taken these actions even though Phra Dhammachayo has been sick.”
Phra Dhammachayo is the 72-year-old abbot of Dhammakaya, the world’s largest Buddhist temple that is located just north of Bangkok.
Opponents have accused the temple of distorting Buddhist principles and of propagating a materialistic version of the Buddha’s teachings and equating money donated to the institution by the faithful to merit acquired in the afterlife.
The abbot himself is alleged to have received $33 million from the manager of a credit cooperative that collapsed, affecting thousands of shareholders.
The Department of Special Investigation, a police unit dealing with highly sensitive cases, has summoned Phra Dhammachayo three times -- the latest on Monday -- for interrogation in the case.
The monk never turned up and his supporters showed medical certificates saying he suffers from deep vein thrombosis.
On Tuesday, the department lost patience and obtained an arrest warrant from a criminal court, and police gave Phra Dhammachayo a seven-day deadline to turn himself in.
The controversy is only the latest episode of a long struggle between supporters and opponents of the temple, which controls hundreds of monasteries nationwide and has 85 overseas branches in 33 countries.
Analysts say the temple aims to take control of Thai Buddhism and become a “World Buddhist Center”.
Phra Dhammachayo, a secretive and charismatic monk, is a self-confessed admirer of Adolf Hitler and the dictator's ability to influence crowds.
Thai academic Mano Laohavanich, a Dhammakaya temple expert, told Anadolu Agency in an interview last week that Phra Dhammachayo’s organization of the temple was inspired by the structure of the Nazi Party.
Since Friday, around 100,000 Dhammakaya followers, mostly women clad in white, have been occupying the temple compound, officially for a religious ceremony -- the timing of which coincides with a possible visit by police.
On Tuesday, the Department’s chief General Paisit Wongmuang said he did not want a confrontation between police officers and temple supporters.
The temple is estimated to have several hundreds of thousands of supporters in Thailand, most of them coming from the middle-classes of Bangkok and its suburbs.