Dhammakaya case only growing worse

opinion March 18, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

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Additional charges are fuelling controversy and drawing the government’s strategy into question

The latest charges levelled against the controversial Dhammakaya sect are that “donated” money was used to buy and manipulate stocks. With former abbot Dhammachayo still evading police, the allegations are growing more and more serious, tensions remain high between the authorities and the temple’s followers, and the issue has become politicised both in Thailand and abroad.

Investigators have assembled 15 cases in all, steadily chipping away at the temple’s reputation. These are divided into four main groups. The first has to do with Dhammachayo allegedly receiving questionable cheques in his own and the temple’s names. The second involves the alleged use of temple money to buy stock shares. The third is related to alleged transfers of the Klong Chan cooperative’s money to Dhammakaya monks who allegedly used it to buy land. The fourth concerns alleged transfers of cooperative money to a foundation linked with the temple.

The investigation of Dhammachayo is expanding to cover more individuals related to the temple, including both monks and lay people. One of the biggest names has been former deputy abbot Tattachivo, who served as caretaker abbot for a significant period of time. It is becoming obvious that what looked initially like a one-man case now threatens to implicate a lot more people than expected. Also being probed reportedly are the alleged use of nominees and a number of other properties. The name of a high-profile private business is being mentioned more often, and authorities are now seeking testimony from the Securities and Exchange Commission and stockbrokers.

The authorities say they are now trying to establish a pattern of racketeering in which Dhammachayo might be a key player. “When all the 15 cases are completed, a bigger picture of all the connections will emerge,” a senior prosecutor has been quoted as saying. He said money from the cooperative did not formally belong to the temple at all, and the same applied to several properties publicly perceived as being owned by Dhammakaya.

Critics note that the Dhammakaya controversy has swelled in magnitude since the government evoked its summary powers to virtually shut down the sprawling temple. The blockading of the temple was widely criticised on grounds of human rights as observers wondered whether the latest shocking charges are meant to justify the government’s harsh action.

Regardless, a Pandora’s box has been opened. The charges are serious and should be settled in court as soon as possible before a fragile situation that has been brought to the brink by tensions between Dhammakaya disciples and police enforcing the summary power deteriorates beyond repair. 

Financial crime is usually complicated, but at least it’s easier to track and comprehend than political crime involving activity deemed detrimental to “national security”. A money trail is harder to establish and yet easier to navigate than, say, aggressive or hateful online political commentary. The temple if innocent has nothing to fear, especially in this era when fabricated or distorted evidence is readily spotted and can so easily backfire on the culprits.

No one wins if the controversy drags on. Both the authorities and the temple have come under criticism, the former on a political basis and the latter on legal terms. While the government’s action against Dhammakaya has prompted public expressions of disdain and 

contempt, the temple’s reputation also hangs in the balance, and Dhammachayo’s disappearance is hardly helping its cause when charges of laundering money await resolution. Settling the issue in court is the only way to bring this matter to a proper end, since any formal ruling will have to rest on clear evidence – or the lack of it.