Dhammakaya search still finds no trace of elusive monk

Sniffer dogs join the search of the Master Nun Chandra Centennial Building and other areas at Wat Phra Dhammakaya on Friday. (Photo by Pongpat Wongyala)

PATHUM THANI - The Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and police resumed their search for embattled Phra Dhammajayo at Wat Phra Dhammakaya on Friday, and again came up empty-handed.

Officials returned to the temple in 16 teams with sniffer dogs for the second day of their second search on Friday, in their long-running effort to arrest the 72-year-old former abbot.

The search on Friday covered eight locations in the compound encompassing 2,000 rai of land at the temple in Khlong Luang district in Pathum Thani and the focus this time was on the Master Nun Chandra Centennial Building, where temple critics, including former monk Mano Laohavanich, have claimed Phra Dhammajayo could be hiding.

They spent two hours combing the building from exhibition halls to toilets, and found only about 100 disciples of the monk praying there.

In other areas, they found a three-kilometre-long, U-shaped tunnel under a pagoda-shaped Pawana building. The tunnel has its entrance in the middle, with dead ends on both wings.

The search is ongoing and officials have shown no sign to give up their hunt for Phra Dhammajayo.

The monk is wanted for alleged forest encroachment by meditation centres and alleged money laundering and reception of stolen assets in connection with multi-billion-baht embezzlement at Klongchan Credit Union Co-operative and he has ignored several warnings to report to the DSI after the credit union scandal came to light.

"The search is continuing but given the latest report no one has seen Phra Dhammajayo," DSI deputy spokesman Woranan Srilam told a press briefing. Authorities will have to sit down to assess the operation to fix loopholes if they fail to catch the monk, he added.

Phra Sanitwong Wutthiwangso, director of Public Relations at the temple, repeated the same message on Friday - that he has not seen Phra Dhammajayo for some time. "I have not been in contact with him for a long time. Luang Phor has his own engagements," he said.

On Thursday, authorities searched almost 200 rai of the 2,300 rai compound and tried to cover the rest on the second mission.

Mr Mano suspected the monk could be playing hide and seek with authorities, by moving back to the areas  they  searched on Thursday. Pol Maj Woranan said officials would work out a plan to cope with that and could search zones again if necessary.

Pictures of what is said to be the room of Phra Dhammajayo have been posted on social media. The deputy spokesman said officials had not verified the pictures, but would seize medical equipment in the room to find out when it was last used.

Outside the temple, about 200 followers were blocked from entering the temple, while about 1,000 remain inside.

An aerial picture of Wat Phra Dhammakaya from the DSI

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