An elderly monk wanted for massive fraud may have escaped a three-week siege of his temple, Thai cops admitted, thwarting a much-trumped dragnet ordered by the kingdom’s junta.
On Feb 16 the Thai junta invoked special powers to seal off the 1,000-acre grounds of the Wat Dhammakaya temple on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Read – Thai authorities end 23-day siege of Dhammakaya, nation’s largest temple
Since then thousands of police officers have laid siege to the temple in a bid to arrest 72-year-old monk Phra Dhammachayo, who was believed to be holed-up inside.
The former abbot, who founded the breakaway Buddhist order in 1970 and steered its rise to riches, is accused of money laundering and accepting embezzled funds worth US$33mil (RM145.9mil) from the jailed boss of a cooperative bank.
The monk’s followers say he is innocent and deny any knowledge of his whereabouts, instead accusing the junta of a witchhunt against a popular Buddhist institution.
The monk’s disappearing act has transfixed the Thai public, raising questions of religion and politics and leaving Thailand’s military rulers struggling to explain the challenge to their authority.