Updated February 24, 2016.
This fact sheet is meant to provide the reader with the most crucial information. As this case continues to evolve, this document will be updated with events and facts as they become available.
On February 15th, 2017, the Thai Junta invoked Article 44 of the interim constitution to declare WPD a “specially controlled zone,” granting authorities wide and far reaching powers to search Wat Phra Dhammakaya. This was invoked in lieu of the rule of law because no legal rationale exists in the constitution. For 3 days (February 16-18, 2017), DSI, police, and the military forces have raided the temple grounds, barricaded gates, prohibited temple visitors from entering and prohibited food/water from being delivered to the temple premises. As news reports and live feeds have supported, temple officials cooperated with and assisted authorities in their search, which was carried out three times.
Despite this the Junta has now gone a step further by issuing an order forcing all non-permanent monks, laity, and visitors to vacate the temple and brought in forces in the thousands to barricade the temple. Businesses and residents in neighboring areas have also been prohibited from entering their businesses and homes, even though their structures are outside the “specially controlled zone.” After searching the temple premise three times and not being able to find their “person of interest,” on February 22, 2017, DSI demanded they be permitted to search the property again, but temple devotees refused because they suspect the government to have other intentions. The Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha even admitted that WPD was declared a “restricted zone” to enable officials to carry out a search and not for the arrest of the abbot.
On February 24, 2017, the Thai junta cut off mobile internet service, preventing reporters from transmitting live reports from the area.
The bottom line is DSI’s motivations should be questioned. DSI claims that Ven. Dhammajayo must be present for the case to move forward in court, but temple devotees believe that is merely an excuse to seize and dismantle the temple, as he could actually be tried in absentia.
How did this all start?
In a case opened in 2016, the honorary abbot* of Wat Phra Dhammakaya (WPD), Phrathepyanmahamuni (Most Venerable Dhammajayo), has been accused of crimes he did not commit—money laundering and receiving stolen money— by Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI).
Where did these funds come from?
From 2009 - 2011, the former chairman of Klongchan Credit Union (KCUC) gave 11.3 billion baht to various temples, organizations, and charities, using KCUC cheques. Of the 11.3 billion baht, 8.2% (932 million) was donated to the abbot and Wat Phra Dhammakaya.
Did the abbot receive stolen money?
No, he did not. Obviously, to have received stolen money, the money in question has to be stolen. However, whether or not the money was actually stolen has not yet been determined* - that case is still in court. How can you file a case against someone based on “evidence” that hasn’t been proven to be true?
Did the abbot launder money?
No, he did not. To have laundered money, the abbot had to have (1) known the money was stolen, (2) masked the money trail by putting the money through a series of transactions, and (3) returned the money to the former chairman. All three conditions need to be met for the act to be considered money laundering. However, none of this happened.
How do you know none of this happened?
To address (1), there is no possible fact-based way to prove that the abbot had no knowledge. However, the lack of evidence to show that he did have knowledge indicates his innocence. Regarding (2) and (3), the Anti-Money Laundering Office traced all cheques involved and found a clear money trail, and confirmed that no money was ever returned to the former chairman.
How did the abbot receive the money?
The abbot received this and other donations in a public area, in front of a crowd of people, which was broadcasted live on satellite TV. No concealment was attempted and the source of funds is not known. He never handled the money - all donations were processed and managed by the temple’s finance department.
What did the abbot do with the money?
All donated money went toward building religious structures for Buddhism and society. Not one single baht of cash was ever withdrawn from the Abbot’s account. In 2013, the Anti-Money Laundering Office traced all checks involved and found a clear money trail, dismissing any money laundering accusations.
Why is the victim, KCUC, not involved in the current lawsuit?
Temple devotees raised 684 million (same amount being investigated) and gave it to the credit union to help return it to normal operations. Additional funds are being raised to bring the total amount of the emergency relief fund to 932 million baht. The credit union withdrew all civil and criminal charges, and presented a letter of appreciation to the temple devotees. Condition: If the money is later found to be legally acquired by the chairman, then the credit union agrees to return the relief funds.
The abbot is clearly innocent, yet DSI continues to pursue criminal charges against him in a manner that has been suspicious, unjust, and illegal. Here are just a few examples:
The 1st summons was leaked to the press instead of delivered to the Abbot, an unethical move for any legal sector in any government.
For the 2nd summons, the Abbot requested postponement due to illness. DSI granted it, but then went back on their word, subsequently seeking an arrest warrant that was later denied by the courts.
DSI taped the 3rd summons to the temple’s main gate with instructions that no one remove it. The temple asked DSI to read the Abbot his charges at the temple due to his deteriorating health, but DSI stated it would be illegal to do so. However, a Thai Deputy Prosecutor later came out to confirm that the temple’s request is indeed legal and valid.
DSI also suspended the license of the Abbot’s physician who verified his illness. Yet, DSI refused to allow impartial physicians to carry out the “proper” medical verification. The Medical Council of Thailand later confirmed the validity of the medical certificate.
DSI formed and headed a committee with impartial monastic authorities (National Office of Buddhism and the provincial monastic chief) to negotiate, coordinate, and move the lawsuit forward. DSI failed to hold their end of the deal and said later the outcomes of the committee meetings had no bearing on the lawsuit.
To raid the temple and arrest the Abbot, DSI prepared 2,200 police force and SWAT units, armoured trucks, military equipment, drones, a helicopter, and consulted an outspoken critic.
DSI is selectively prosecuting only the Abbot, without investigating any of the other check recipients (worth about 10 billion baht) that could help the Credit Union return to full operation.
Part 2: Forest Encroachment
Did Wat Phra Dhammakaya properties encroach on reserved forests (Loei Province)?
DSI alleged Suan Pa Himmawan Meditation Retreat Center (Phu Reua, Loei, Thailand) encroached on reserved forest lands. To substantiate their claims, they hired an aerial-photograph reading expert, who has a previous criminal record for corruption, who interpreted the map as showing forest encroachment. However, any amateur could clearly see from the maps that the retreat center does not overlap with reserved forest.
Did Wat Phra Dhammakaya properties encroach on reserved forests (Nakhon Ratchasima Province)?
DSI alleged World Peace Valley Meditation Retreat Center (Khao Yai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand) encroached on reserved forest lands. Background: This land was originally purchased through a broker who negotiated for its purchase from all the owners. When DSI learned that some of land parcels lacked official title deeds, they alleged that the retreat center encroached on reserved forests and national park lands. However, if one were to examine an aerial map of the area, one can clearly see the retreat center lands are not part of the national forest, or national park, and does not belong to the Agricultural Land Reform Office. This was confirmed by the local authorities who issued the construction permit from the very beginning. A proper title deed exists for this property.
Why are there arrest warrants out for the abbot?
The abbot was summoned for questioning about both allegations of forest encroachment, but was unable to travel due to prolonged illness as mentioned in Part 1. After not appearing for the summonses DSI sought arrest warrants for not appearing. This is in spite of DSI knowing well beforehand that he could not make it due to illness and has refused the perfectly legal request to question him at the temple.
In short: DSI ordered summonses and refused to question the abbot at the temple, knowing he couldn't make it so they could have an excuse to get arrest warrants.
Given that DSI is a unit of the Department of Justice, there is good reason to believe that a fair trial won’t take place, which is why the Abbot’s supporters won’t let him appear before the courts. It is legal and normal procedure for DSI to question a suspect at their location if they are unable to appear for questioning elsewhere yet they insist on getting an arrest warrant instead. The probable reason for this is if he is jailed he will be forced to disrobe before trial and will permanently lose his seniority and the monastic titles, he has earned during his 47 years of monkhood, including his title as abbot and will have to ordain again as a brand new monk even if later proven innocent!
Other points of consideration
Suan Pa Himmawan belongs to WPD and has assigned a caretaker who is responsible for managing the retreat center. Essentially, anyone representing the temple could have been asked to come in for questioning, but they insisted that the abbot must be present to answer these questions as well.
- This retreat center had initially been owned by the abbot and was transferred to the temple in 1999. In total, the abbot and temple have owned the property for over 20 years. If the forest lands were indeed encroached on, why is there a land title for the property? Why are they just bringing up these charges now?
The Office of the Attorney General postponed their indictment decision four times due to lack of evidence. They were scheduled to deliver their findings on November 30, 2016. However, they abruptly moved the press conference forward by a week and gave an unsolicited press conference stating their opinion to file charges against the abbot.
- On December 26, 2016, at the request of DSI, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission shut down Dhamma Media Channel (DMC.TV), the temple’s 24-hour television / satellite station, indefinitely, citing inappropriate content and being a threat to national security. This station regularly broadcasts programming for all ages such as guided meditation, dhamma talks, and numerous animated programs teaching the scriptures.
* On December 5, 2016, Ven. Dhammajayo (Phrathepyanmahamuni) was appointed Honorary Abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya by the chief provincial monk under Section 39 of the Sangha Act, relieving him of all administrative duties related to his previous position. Phravidesbhavanajarn (Ven. Somboon Sammapunyo) has been appointed as the temple’s acting abbot by the chief monk of the subadmin govt.
*As this case continues to evolve, this document will be updated with events and facts as they become available.
**There is a common misconception that the money involved has already been declared illegal due to the complexities of the charges against the former chairman (Mr. Supachai Srisupa-aksorn) for embezzling money. It has been circulating in the media that he has been already been convicted of embezzling money and sentenced to 16 years. However, that case is for an unrelated 22 million baht, in the first of seven cases being brought against him. The case against Ven. Dhammajayo and Wat Phra Dhammakaya is amongst the remaining six still awaiting trial. For a chart, click here.