More than 700 policemen surrounded the largest Buddhist temple in Thailand on Tuesday, (27 December) to arrest the 72-year-old abbot Phra Dhammachayo in connection with suspected money laundering. Devotees of the abbot reportedly blocked the entrances to the Wat Dhammakaya temple as the police prepared to raid the temple complex in north Bangkok.
The police officer in charge of the operation, Khempak Photipak, told Reuters: "The objective of the operation today is to remove anything that is in the way, including fences. We're waiting for orders about when to raid the temple."
"Thousand police storm Buddhist temple without search warrant while 10,000 devotees chanting inside. Is this legit?" the public relations department of the temple said in a tweet hours after police arrived at the temple.
In November, Thailand's attorney general said Dhammachayo and four others would be charged with conspiracy to launder money and receive stolen property. According to reports, police are also seeking to take legal action against the temple for over 200 accusations including the construction of an unauthorised building 35 years ago. The abbot has allegedly ignored several deadlines to surrender.
Thai police have made attempts in vain over the last few months to question the abbot and enter the temple complex.
The temple spokespersons have denied any wrongdoing and said that the monks have no trust in the justice system under the military. They alleged that the officials insist on persecuting the temple out of envy over the huge amounts of donations the temple receives.