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Date: 1/7/99

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines


THE House Religious Committee said yesterday that it has discovered that the Dhammakaya Temple and its foundation own numerous plots of land and that the abbot, deputy abbot and a female patron of the temple are possibly linked to nearly 100 companies.

The disclosure puts more pressure on the controversial temple, which is facing tough public scrutiny of its fund-raising tactics.

Authorities investigating the temple have said that while it may be difficult to make a legal move against Dhammakaya's gigantic donations ''industry'', proof of abuse of public donations would turn the tide.

Atthasit Sappayasit, the committee's spokesman, said the latest information came from the Land Department, the Department of Commercial Registration and academics from the Religious Department.

The besieged Dhammakaya abbot, Luang Phor Dhammachayo, faces more trouble as the House panel is also investigating charges that he has been granted US citizenship after having invested a lot of money in the United States.

''The House committee is very interested in the report that Luang Phor Dhammachayo has been granted American citizenship under the name of Chaiyaboon Suthiphol, which means he can move swiftly to live in the United States if there's a big problem here,'' said a committee source, who asked not to be named.

Atthasit said the temple has 196 rai of land while the foundation owns 1,245 rai. The Land Department said there is no law prohibiting monks receiving or owning land, but the House committee voiced concern that land donated for religious purposes could eventually become individuals' assets, especially if laymen's names -- not ecclesiastic ones -- are used in the legal transfer process.

Amnuay Suwankhiri, a top adviser to the House committee, said the Department of Commercial Registration has informed the House panel that the surname ''Suthiphol'' is linked to four companies, while ''Pongsawat'', the layman surname of a deputy abbot, is associated with 18 companies.

Attention has also focused on a woman named Jirawat Srirattana, a key supporter of the temple. According to the Commercial Registration Department, ''Srirattana'' is linked to 76 companies.

''Many of those companies linked to these surnames have been active in the property business,'' said Amnuay. He stressed the need to hurry the investigation because ''temples' assets belong to the Thai people, not any individual.''

A source said the House committee would also investigate allegations that Jirawat had written a will which names the temple's abbot as a main beneficiary if she dies.

Meanwhile, two monks who were close to the abbot but have become detractors told iTV yesterday that Luang Phor Dhammachayo liked to make sensual compliments of female followers' appearances.

''I heard it with my own ears. He would say things like 'You're so beautiful', or 'I like to pinch your chubby cheek', or 'You have such pretty earlobes','' said Phra Adisak Virayasokko.

Phra Mano Mettanantho claimed the abbot was involved with many businessmen who are involved in numerous joint ventures with the temple.

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