Thailand orders Buddhist temple's TV channel off air as 72-year-old monk evades arrest

Phra Dhammachayo is being hunted down by police for allegedly accepting funds worth 1.2 billion baht.

Wat Dhammakaya temple
Abbot Phra Dhammachayo leads a ceremony as Buddhist monks carry candles at the Wat Phra Dhammakaya temple Reuters

Thailand's national telecom regulator has been ordered by authorities to suspend the 24-hour satellite TV channel of the controversial Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Wat Dhammakaya, in order to tighten pressure on the spiritual leader of the temple who is embroiled in an illicit funds scandal.

According to reports the Temple's former abbot, Phra Dhammachayo is being hunted down by police for allegedly accepting funds worth 1.2 billion baht (S$47.7 million). The fund was given to him by a cooperative bank owner, who was jailed. Though the date to apprehend the leader is yet to be decided, police said that they will get the monk, who is wanted on three arrest warrants, within next three months, reported the Bangkok post.

On Wednesday, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) passed an order to suspend the temple's channel, which broadcasts across several continents, for 15 days after a request was filed by the Department of Special Investigation. However, the authorities refused to comment on the move saying the matter is sensitive.

According to the Straits Times, the chief of Thailand's Department of Special Investigations (DSI), Colonel Paisit Wongmuang, accused the temple of using the TV channel to call supporters to the compound to foil police's raids that was attempted recently to nab the abbot following his failure to turn up in front of the authorities after the deadline lapsed. However, the police attempt failed as a huge crowd blocked the entrance to protect the leader.

"In previous searches we found that the temple has used television as propaganda to attract people to come for (religious reasons), but instead used people to meditate and block the temple's gates," said Paisit, according to the news website. However, the temple authorities denied the allegation.

After the issue got heated up in the last few week after Phra Dhammachayo manoeuvred several deadlines for surrender, police have been tightening their noose on the 72-year-old monk in a way which will help them to avoid clashes with the devotees.