Strong and successful organizations bring pride to a nation’s citizenry. Such organizations become an integral part of the country, and often receive governmental support to make themselves competitive for international markets. In the United States and much of Europe, the support citizens have for one another have strengthened their nations socially and economically. This applies to spiritual and religious organizations as well. Although individuals may have varied opinions in regards to beliefs, they still respect each other and try to co-exist harmoniously.
One such organization fitting this description is Wat Phra Dhammakaya. Members of Wat Phra Dhammakaya and the Dhammakaya Foundation have worked tirelessly since the temple was founded in 1970. It began with Master Nun Khun Yai Chand Khonnokyoong, who at that time was 60 years old, together with her small group of young college graduates. They may have been few in number, but they dedicated their lives to fulfilling the dream of transforming an empty rice field into a flourishing temple and organization. Now the temple has many members, some of whom are successful business people and officers of government. The temple has over 188 branches around the world and many international members there as well. On April 22, 2016, the temple’s abbot, Phrathepyanmahamuni, was bestowed 97 awards from Thailand and forty other countries in recognition of his contributions to Buddhism and towards peace projects worldwide. He has also received numerous awards in the past. The president of the Philippines and their Archbishop sent letters of appreciation to the temple for its successful meditation and Universal Goodness (UG5) training program involving about 10,000 students in the Philippines. On this same day, the temple celebrated Earth Day by inviting 100,000 monks and novices throughout Thailand and over 100,000 lay devotees to meditate and take part in the many Buddhist activities, such as alms offering, chanting, and spreading loving-kindness to the world. Photos from the event have been shared widely, as some of the activities have never occurred on such a scale.
Despite its accolades and countless contributions to society, Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) launched an aggressive investigation into the Abbot, Phrathepyanmahamuni, and has charged him with receiving stolen property and colluding to launder money with Mr. Supachai Srisupa-Aksorn, former chairman of Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC). Mr. Supachai is alleged to have embezzled 11.3 billion Baht from the cooperative and donating it to various temples, organizations, and charities in the form of 878 cheques. Of the total amount, Mr. Supachai donated to 545 million Baht to Wat Phra Dhammakaya and 387 million Baht to Phrathepyanmahamuni (932 million Baht total). Yet, this accounts only 8.2% of the total amount in question.
Mr. Supachai informed the temple and later issued a statement indicating the funds used for the donations had been borrowed from KCUC, but he had repaid the loan in full as verified by the cooperative’s annual audit. He also declared in court that the money he donated to the temple was his entirely.
The supporters of the temple helped the cooperative’s members by collectively raising the equivalent amount of funds donated to help the credit union return to a state of liquidity; now the cooperative no longer wishes to pursue civil charges against the temple.
The point is, the abbot had no way to check with the donor the source of the funds before receiving the donations. These funds were then transparently allocated to the construction of temple facilities to accommodate the increasing number of people coming to the temple for special events. To have laundered money, the offending party must have known the funds were illegally obtained, put them through a series of transactions to clean the “dirty” funds, and then returned to the offending party - none of which occurred.
Despite all of this, DSI has been employing all means possible to bring charges against the Abbot. Never mind that these charges have no grounds, make no sense, and lack solid evidence.
And in its haste to rapidly push the case to trial, DSI committed several serious missteps beginning with their handling of the three special cases.
Invalid parties: First, Mr. Thammanoon Attichoti, a member of KCUC, filed a civil lawsuit against Wat Phra Dhammakaya & Phrathepyanmahamuni, when the grievance should have been directed against the credit union to which he was a member of. The entity responsible for his loss is the cooperative, not the recipient of money borrowed from the cooperative.
Unlawful Lawsuit duplication: There was an intentional duplication of lawsuit when DSI constructed an entirely new special case using the same evidence found in a previous case that the Prosecutor had informed DSI was lacking sufficient evidence.
Illogical and unlawful conversion: The unusual but convenient evolution of a simple civil lawsuit (Abbot as witness) to a criminal lawsuit, not just an individual criminal lawsuit, which would have been more appropriate for this case, but a national criminal lawsuit, proceeding on the basis of “national interest” (Abbot as suspect), which is illogical given the case was brought by one party against another, and that it had already been settled out of court and withdrawn.
- Selective Prosecution: And lastly, the greatest confusion lies with the Abbot being the only person or entity targeted by DSI when other organizations, temples, and charities received greater than 90% of the alleged embezzled funds (10.4 billion Baht). Why hasn’t an investigation been launched into the rest of this colossal amount?
Other peculiar actions have also been recorded regarding DSI’s relentless efforts to prosecute the Abbot. Currently, the 72-year-old Abbot is suffering from multiple, chronic, severe health problems, preventing him from traveling great distances. Because of these physician-verified conditions, the temple has asked DSI to notify the Abbot of his charges there. DSI, however, repeatedly refused to do so even though Thai law permits them to notify an accused party of their charges anywhere, including the temple. DSI used the Abbot’s failure to appear as justification for requesting an arrest warrant from the courts and stated that they had passed the juncture when questioned about bringing qualified physicians to verify the Abbot’s illness.
And rather than simply making a visit to the temple with a few officials to read the Abbot his charges, DSI has asked for the help of a drone and 2,200 troops to monitor the temple and to be ready to move in and arrest the abbot. This is an overreaction and can be seen as a strategy by DSI to intimidate the temple and portray to the media that the abbot is a threat to flee the country if given the chance - impossible given the Abbot’s health condition and lack of a passport. It is a well known fact that the abbot, Phrathepyanmahamuni, is beneficent and has only ever intended to remain at the temple for the rest of his life.Why does DSI continue to persist with this nonsense case and create further problems for Thailand? Thailand has been dealing with problems truly on a national scale - drought, a stagnant economy, and poverty. These pressing issues need to be addressed rather than trying to destroy one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world - one that Thailand should be very proud of.