Allegations against Venerable Dhammajayo, Buddhist monk and the abbot of Wat Phra Dhammakaya, the largest Buddhist temple in Thailand, has brought forth a wave of protests from supporters across four continents. Venerable Dhammajayo, also known as Phrathepyanmahamuni, stands accused of money laundering and receiving stolen property by the Thai Department of Special Investigation (DSI). Seven years ago, he had received donations totaling 684 million Thai baht from Supachai Srisupa-aksorn, the former chairman of Klongchan Credit Union Cooperative (KCUC). Allegations against Wat Phra Dhammakaya arose when it was alleged that Srisupa-aksorn had embezzled more than 12 billion Thai baht from the credit union and some of the checks from this alleged offense had been traced back to Wat Phra Dhammakaya.
Supporters of the abbot from around the world protested the charges, they state it is ridiculous to charge somebody for receiving a donation that was later found out to be questionable. They base this on the fact that the temple receives donations in the open public, en masse, among a crowd of thousands of donors. They say doing so would make any non-profit vulnerable to tainted donations and that it is not appropriate for temples to ask donors about the source of their donations
On May 10th, 2016, Buddhist protesters in Los Angeles, California assembled in front of several news stations and local landmarks to picket what they say are injustices. They were featured on KABC channel 7’s breaking news segment at 11:00 AM. The protesters stated their intention was to raise international awareness of the case and call for fair treatment of Venerable Dhammajayo.
Since then, Buddhists across the globe have gathered in front of major landmarks to make the case known, including the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Hong Kong, Germany, Thailand, and other major American cities including New York City and Seattle.
The protesters claim that Ven. Dhammajayo has been wrongly accused, saying that the checks given as donations seven years ago were handled by the temple’s finance department rather than the abbot himself, and that there was no way of knowing the money’s source since the donations were received in the open public. In addition, when devotees of Wat Phra Dhammakaya were made aware that the donations came from embezzled funds, they set up an emergency fund to return the equivalent of Srisupa-aksorn’s illegal donations to KCUC. While KCUC initially filed for civil charges against Ven. Dhammajayo, they have since dropped all allegations and issued a letter of appreciation to the temple supporters.
Despite this, the Thai Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has still pursued the abbot, enraging supporters who worked to return the funds to KCUC and those who say the case is groundless. They say that the charges on money laundering have no basis, since the money trail was completely transparent and there was no evidence of any attempt to conceal the “dirty” money associated with the former chairman’s donations. They claim this is evidence the temple did not know the money was embezzled.
Protesters claim the case isn’t just baseless but absurd. They state that it is ridiculous to charge somebody for receiving a public donation that was later found out to be stolen, saying that if this is the case any temple or non-profit could easily be liable to prosecution or sabotage. The protesters reiterate that the abbot did not know where the money came from and it is not reasonable to charge him or anybody for receiving a publicly given, unsolicited donation.
The unfair treatment of Ven. Dhammajayo, as the protesters claim, has brought them not just to protest in hopes of raising awareness of the case, but also to submit numerous petitions to various organizations about the issue, including Amnesty International; the governments of Sri Lanka and India; and Thai Consulates in Sweden, India and the United States. Freedom Watch International was also formed in response to the case and has made a plea for justice for the abbot.
The case hit a boiling point on May 17th, 2016 when DSI was issued a warrant by the court to arrest Ven. Dhammajayo for failing to report for a summons on May 16th, 2016. DSI has since declared that the abbot has until May 26th to turn himself in before they make an arrest. Representatives of the abbot, however, had previously requested on May 14th, 2016 that the meeting be moved to Wat Phra Dhammakaya due to numerous complications from Ven. Dhammajayo’s chronic illnesses that disallowed him to travel, which were supported by a panel of doctors. The temple had offered to allow DSI to send independent doctors to verify his condition and offered to provide transportation to the DSI officials to question Ven. Dhammajayo at the temple on the requested summons date.
Regardless, DSI did not respond to the request and when Ven. Dhammajayo failed to appear on May 16th they sought an arrest warrant from the court. The recent actions of DSI have sparked greater outcry from Ven. Dhammajayo supporters and protesters of the case. The picketing has however remained peaceful, and there have yet to be any photographic or video evidence of any violent confrontations or outbursts from the protesters of the case thus far.
A Thai news anchor questioned the Deputy-General of DSI on the Thairath TV show “Tam Trong Trong (Direct Questions) with Jomkwan” aired on May 18th, 2016, at 7pm UTC, about sending an independent physician to verify the abbot’s condition, the exchange can be seen below:
Anchor: “Deputy Director, looking at this from the perspective of the [temple] supporters, they would say they’ve tried to explain, tried to invite officials to verify that the abbot cannot travel. They even want a panel of doctors or a third party to come and verify that the abbot truly cannot travel. Can this still happen prior to the 26th?”
DSI Official: “At this moment, that option has passed. That step would have taken place prior to the approval of the arrest warrant. The court has already issued the arrest warrant.”
DSI Official: “There has to be a suspect, to be frank.”
Anchor: “Let me backtrack a little. I apologize, but I have to ask, “So, before the arrest warrant was issued, why wasn’t a physician or a third party sent to verify that he was ailing and genuinely unable to travel as they have stated ?””
DSI Official: “Uhhh….I wish to decline from answering. As I said, we have already passed that juncture.
The exchange sparked more outcry among many Ven. Dhammajayo supporters who claim the exchange proves DSI has knowingly acted unlawfully.
The most recent actions of DSI has led Ven. Dhammajayo supporters from around the world to pursue another petition, this time with The White House, on May 18th 2016, requesting that the administration condemn the actions of DSI as a human and patient’s rights violation by not allowing for reasonable accommodation for an ill defendant.