Thailand shuts ultra-rich temple’s TV channel amid scandal
Thai authorities have ordered a controversial Buddhist temple to suspend its 24-hour TV channel, as police redouble efforts to arrest the spiritual leader of the scandal-hit sect.
A cat-and-mouse game between investigators and the powerful Wat Dhammakaya temple in Bangkok has staggered on for months over allegations its former abbot accepted illicit funds.
Police are reluctant to raid the super-rich temple’s 1,000-acre compound after previous attempts saw thousands of devotees of the breakaway order turn out to defend the 72-year-old monk.
Authorities suspect Phra Dhammachayo of accepting embezzled funds worth 1.2 billion baht (USD 33 million) from the owner of a cooperative bank who was jailed.
Eager to avoid clashing with devotees on temple grounds, police have repeatedly allowed deadlines for the monk’s surrender expire.
But the stand-off has heated up in recent weeks, with authorities leveling new accusations against the well-connected monk and moving to target the temple’s acting abbot for sheltering him.
On Wednesday Thai broadcasting authorities ordered the temple to suspend its television channel for 15 days, citing “inappropriate” content.
The channel appeared to be off the air on Thursday.
Colonel Paisit Wongmuang, chief of Thailand’s Department of Special Investigations (DSI), accused the temple of using its media arm to lure supporters to the compound and thwart police’s attempted raids.
“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,” he said.