Thai-temple raid fails to find abbot

Posted: February 17, 2017 at 3:23 a.m.

PATHUM THANI, Thailand — Thai police raided the head temple of a controversial Buddhist sect Thursday but failed to find and arrest the abbot, who faces criminal charges over accepting $40 million in embezzled money.

The action followed several earlier failed attempts to seize Phra Dhammajayo, 72, head of the Dhammakaya sect. Police were previously thwarted when crowds of monks and followers blocked the way, risking a violent confrontation.

The prime minister of Thailand’s military government, Prayuth Chan-ocha, this time invoked an emergency order declaring the area around the temple a temporary “restricted area” to stop people from entering.

Police deployed about 3,000 personnel to surround the temple before dawn, blocking hundreds of monks and followers who sat outside the compound’s gates, chanting Buddhist texts in protest.

The temple’s senior monks agreed around noon to admit some police. Several hundred officers swept the grounds, homing in on an inner residence compound where intelligence suggested the abbot resided, but he was nowhere to be found.

“We found nothing illegal, we couldn’t find him,” said Kolvit Bunnag, director of special operations at the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand’s FBI. “We expected to find him, but the news spread around. He could [have] run away.”

Some devotees believe the raids are politically motivated because the temple and its followers are seen as supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup.