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Date: 1/9/99

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Abbot denies holding green card

A HIGH-RANKING government source confirmed yesterday that Wat Dhammakaya abbot Luang Phor Dhammachayo holds a green card issued by the US government, contradicting the temple's statement denying his preferential immigrant status.

The source said the abbot does not have permanent US citizenship, but has been issued a green card. The reason for the monk having acquired an immigration privilege was not revealed.

The source's account, if officially confirmed, is likely to deal a big blow to the controversial temple and the abbot, both under public scrutiny for the aggressive solicitation of donations and the claim of miracles perceived by followers.

The US Embassy refused to confirm or deny yesterday if Dhammachayo had the immigration card, saying this was a private matter and the mission will not respond.

A green card is a type of immigrant visa issued upon petition by applicants, their family members or employers who live in the US.

Those studying, working, married to US citizens or having businesses in the US are eligible. Green card holders are not given the right to vote and are not considered citizens, but must pay government taxes.

In a statement yesterday, signed by Wat Dhammakaya assistant abbot Phra Palad Sutham Suthammo, the Dhammakaya Foundation denied that Dhammachayo had a green card or US citizenship.

''The Dhammakaya abbot has never travelled to, invested in the United States, applied for a green card or a US citizenship. News about him having this status is false,'' the statement said.

The foundation also denied that the temple had invested in the US and that the abbot's relatives and his assistant were managing some of the companies.

''The temple has never invested in a business. People sometimes have the same surname without any relationship,'' it said.

Phra Palad Sutham told The Nation

by telephone yesterday that Wat Dhammakaya has evidence to back its denial of all the allegations.

''As Buddhist monks, we cannot lie. We have all the evidence ready for investigation by the monastic order and everything we have said is true,'' he said.

Documents and information from the Land Department, the Department of Commercial Registration and academics from the Religious Affairs Department show that Wat Dhammakaya might be linked to 100 companies in the United States. Some of the firms had been registered under the names of those whose family names are identical to those of the abbot and his assistant.

The Crime Suppression Division has launched an investigation into possible unlawful, fraudulent activities under the business deals the temple is suspected to be secretly involved in. The Education Ministry is also carrying out a separate investigation into controversies surrounding the temple.

Commenting on Dhammachayo's holding of a US green card, Religious Affairs Department deputy director General Chamras Sudanit said yesterday Thai Buddhist monks, assigned to spread Buddhism in the United States, did not need a green card because they would be in that country for just a year or two.

Expatriate monks, permanently posted at temples in the US, are given a green card approved by US authorities, he said.

''In the case of Phra Dhammachayo, we still have no information and a further investigation is needed,'' he stated.

Suwat Ngoencham, chairman of the Education Ministry's committee investigating the controversy, said yesterday that the panel will gather information from the temple, the media, the House committee on religious affairs and all government agencies concerned in two weeks and pass on a report to the Region 1 monastic chief, Phra Prommoli.

''It is up to the monk to decide, after studying the report, if he should seek action from the Sangha Supreme Council,'' said Suwat, deputy permanent secretary of the ministry.

Suwat said his committee only had the duty of finding facts about the matter and could not rule on it.

He said the case of Wat Paknam Phasicharoen expelling Phra Adisak Virayasokko, who had deserted Wat Dhammakaya and had spoken out against its abbot, was the private affair of Wat Paknam.

''I think the decision was made in the best judgement of the abbot and we have to respect that,'' Suwat added.

Deputy director Gen Chamras, meanwhile, said Adisak will very likely find a new temple to admit him since he was not guilty of anything wrong.

''He was expelled from Wat Paknam merely because he had a different opinion. Any temple will be willing to take him if only he requests it,'' Chamras said.

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