They plan another raid today (Feb 17) as the court has given them authority to search the temple for several days.
The fourth attempted operation, which is the first time officials were able to enter the temple, began at 2am yesterday morning when the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) deployed 20 teams of officials to search the temple, with the support of more than 3,600 police officers from Provincial Police Region 1, Police Region 7, and the Metropolitan Police Bureau, along with 900 soldiers.
The soldiers’ primary task was to maintain peace and order outside the temple and prevent people from carrying weapons into the temple while the authority to search the temple rested solely with the DSI and police.
Just before dawn, soldiers and police surrounded the temple compound, preventing any disciples from entering.
The DSI tried to negotiate with the temple’s representatives to enter the temple until the afternoon, after which officials broke Gate 1 to enter the grounds and began their search for the temple’s fugitive founder, Phra Dhammajayo.
He is wanted in connection with the multi-billion-baht Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative embezzlement scandal. After three hours of searching, officials turned back at 3:30pm empty-handed.
Maj Woranan Silam, DSI deputy spokesman, told a press briefing after the operation ended that the operation involved a combined force of 4,240 officials from the DSI, the police and the army. Some 19 spots in three areas and in the temple – Zones A, B and C – were targeted in the search.
Officials began the search in Zone A which covers 196 rai and is where Phra Dhammajayo is believed to have stayed. However, they did not find the monk during their search.
The search of Zones B and C where the temple’s various foundations and other buildings are located, was scheduled to begin at 8am today, Maj Woranan said.
Only about 15-20% of the temple grounds were searched and officials must complete the search of all the remaining 80% of the temple’s compound, he said. Pol Maj Woranan said there is no specific time frame for the latest search warrant approved by the court.
Deputy police spokesman Col Krissana Pattanacharoen said that officials also searched the Daowadung Building where the temple’s representatives had said Phra Dhammajayo lived but failed again to find the abbot. He declined to say whether officials found evidence that Phra Dhammajayo was living there, saying only that the location was thoroughly searched.
Col Krissana said although the search team could not find Phra Dhammajayo, this did not mean the former abbot was not staying in the temple. The search will continue until it covers the entirety of the temple’s compound, he said.
Still, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said that Phra Dhammajayo is not the primary target of the search. In principle, officials are duty-bound to carry out the search warrant and enter the temple grounds.
Gen Prayut’s policy is to enforce and uphold the law. A lack of law enforcement would leave the government open to criticism, Gen Prawit said.
The DSI and police attempted to search the temple in three previous raids, but failed. The first raid took place on June 16, last year, the second from Dec 13-16 and the third on Dec 27.
The search aims to arrest the temple’s former abbot, Phra Dhammajayo, who is wanted on several arrest warrants for allegedly laundering money and receiving stolen assets in connection with the multi-billion-baht embezzlement of the Klongchan Credit Union Co-operative.
His temple’s meditation centres also allegedly encroach on forest reserves in Loei, Nakhon Ratchasima and Phang Nga provinces. He has refused to meet with officials for questioning and acknowledge charges claiming he is too ill.
The raid began after an order authorising it was issued under Section 44 of the interim constitution which was published in the Royal Gazette at midnight on Thursday.
It said that Section 44 was being used to impose control over the temple because those inside had resisted the efforts of law enforcement.
The order signed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha authorised the DSI and police to “designate and control an area to boost efficiency in law enforcement”.
Under the order, Wat Dhammakaya and its surrounding areas are designated as “a specially controlled area”.
“This calls for some measures to be put in place in order to control the area temporarily for effective law enforcement and peace in the country,” said the document published in the Royal Gazette.
DSI Director-General Paisit Wongmuang and Provincial Police Region 1 Chief Charnthep Sesawet led officials through Gate 1, which is the closest to the monk’s residence, meeting only slight resistance from monks and followers. Monks at the temple refused to say whether he was still inside.
Earlier in the morning, Col Paisit said that the Section 44 order authorising the raid was intended to allow officials to temporarily control the temple and surrounding area and prevent outsiders from entering. He said the order had been issued after Phra Dhammajayo had repeatedly failed to report to the DSI to acknowledge the charges against him and his devotees obstructed the DSI’s previous search operations. Col Paisit stressed that there would be no use of force during the search while police would not carry weapons while in the temple.
Lt Gen Charnthep said that anyone who obstructs the search operation will be deemed to be breaking the law, adding that the hunt for the monk has no specific time frame as the court has given police and the DSI authority to search the temple both during the day and at night for several days until they can bring Phra Dhammajayo to face charges.
Phra Sanitwong Wuttiwangso, the director of the temple’s organisational communication office, said that the temple did not try to obstruct the search operation.
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