THE HUNT for wanted former abbot Phra Dhammachayo will continue after authorities admitted that he may have fled during the three-week siege of Dhammakaya Temple, officials responsible for the operation said yesterday.
Police and the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) are attempting to verify tip-offs about the fugitive monk’s possible whereabouts, DSI director-general Paisit Wongmuang said yesterday. He added that those places were inside temples affiliated with Dhammakaya.
“We have got tip-offs that Phra Dhammachayo may be in hiding at one of those places. The DSI is verifying the information and collecting evidence to apply for a search warrant as soon as possible,” he said.
Paisit also admitted that the charismatic monk, wanted for alleged money laundering and accepting stolen assets, may have left the temple in the early days of the siege of the vast complex in Pathum Thani, which started on February 16.
“I believe he escaped sometime between February 16 and 18,” he told reporters. “We found the temple wall had been destroyed ... it was possible someone helped him escape.”
National police chief General Chakthip Chaijinda said there had been no reports from Immigration Police about Dhammachayo fleeing the country.
However, Dr Mano Laohawanit, a former Dhammakaya monk and staunch critic of the temple, said he believed the monk was still hiding inside the 2,100-rai compound.
He claimed to have an informant inside the temple. On Friday, the temple gave consent for a DSI-led search operation of the compound, particularly the 135-room Boon Raksa building, where Dhammachayo was thought to have been hiding.
Authorities ended their siege of the temple late on Friday but will maintain a presence in the area, which has been declared a controlled area under special powers.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan insisted that although the search of the temple could not find the fugitive former abbot, authorities would not give up their operation to find and arrest the monk.
He also insisted that there would be no revocation of the order designating the temple as a controlled area, which was issued by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in his capacity as the junta leader under Article 44 of the post-coup interim charter.
General Prawit, who is also the defence minister, said the temple would continue to be a controlled area under the order.
On Friday, the temple allowed officials to resume the search for Dhammachayo, who has been stripped of his monastic rank, but he was not found.
Justice Minister Suwaphan Tanyuvardhana said a joint operation centre would be set up inside the temple to take care of safety, peace and order there. The centre will comprise representatives from police, the National Buddhism Office, administrative monks and local provincial officials.
He denied a rumour that the DSI would cancel its operations at the temple, saying authorities would not stop looking for Dhammachayo.
Also yesterday, Dhammakaya monks and novices removed plastic sheets and other items from a protest site in the adjacent Klong Luang Central Market as they prepared to move back into the temple.
The action followed a DSI request for cooperation. The agency had asked the monks to wind up all nearby “prayer” groups in the controlled area as per the junta order.