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Date: 1/14/99

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Dhammakaya scandal may pose security threat

INTELLIGENCE and security officials yesterday voiced concerns that the Dhammakaya scandal could pose a security threat if abbot Luang Phor Dhammachayo chose to turn his popularity into an unsanctioned mass cult.

Their concern, expressed at an inquiry by the House committee on religion, art and culture, was based on Dhammachayo's far-from-transparent conduct in recruiting followers, soliciting donations and spending the funds.

MP Atthasit Supsit, spokesman for the House panel, said Dhammachayo's activities had not been classified as a threat although the abbot and Wat Phra Dhammakaya were under the scrutiny of the intelligence and security apparatus.

At the House committee hearing, ranking officials, including National Security Council assistant secretary-general Jariya Pothisombat, National Intelligence Agency (NIA) assistant director Sirachai Chotirat, Special Branch I commander Pol Maj-Gen Boonsom Sinthu and Pathum Thani police commander Pol Maj-Gen Achira Sonkaew, testified on the scandal.

In response to a question on whether Dhammachayo had a permanent visa to enter the United States, Sirachai said the NIA had no such information, adding that the abbot had not travelled overseas for the past two years.

Sirachai pointed out that speculation on Dhammachayo's residency status might have been confused with the information relating to deputy abbot Phra Thattacheevo.

Thattacheevo did travel to the United States and might hold a long-term, multiple entry visa, he said.

MP Amnuay Suwankhiri, also a committee member, said NIA had conceded that the mobilisation of followers and the abbot's secretive handling of donations might pose a security threat should Dhammachayo abuse his mandate.

''Based on the testimonies of NIA and Special Branch officials, the abbot's activities are a big mystery while certain areas in Wat Phra Dhammakaya remain inaccessible even to government and religious regulators,'' he said.

Amnuay said the committee had requested the Religious Department director general to ask the controversial temple for more information relating to its activities.

The committee was interested in compiling evidence on whether Dhammachayo had violated the Buddhist canon and if his propagation of the faith had been aimed at building a cult instead of spreading Buddha's teachings, he added.

Jariya said the NSC would alert concerned agencies should Dhammachayo commit any offence relating to security laws.

Thaweewat Ritruechai, the committee secretary, revealed that the intelligence and security apparatus were closely monitoring Dhammachayo for possible adverse impacts.

They have questioned why Dhammachayo should demand that devotees pledge donation targets, he said, adding that the abbot's accumulation of wealth was another concern since nobody knew how he managed the funds.

According to intelligence reports, Dhammachayo has set Bt300 million as this year's minimum target for donations.

''Each of the 30,000 inner-circle devotees have to pledge a minimum Bt10,000 donation to achieve such a goal while the temple's followers have been urged to scout for co-sponsors for the rope-presentation ceremonies in which each sponsor has to pledge at least Bt1 million in contributions,'' the committee secretary said.

A committee source said that top intelligence and security officials have warned of possible political implications as the abbot rises in wealth and religious stature.

If Dhammachayo wrongfully exercised his mandate, he could undermine the government's stability by misguiding hundreds of thousands of followers, the source said.

Meanwhile, Crime Suppression Division deputy commander Pol Col Vichien Samanpong, chief investigator on the Dhammakaya scandal, revealed that the probe on the abbot's possible criminal violations would focus on four key areas, namely, the spending of donations, the accumulation of land plots, the investment in businesses, and the abbot's nationality.

Vichien said Dhammachayo might be summoned for questioning before determining whether he is a suspect.

Revenue Department secretary Paitoon Pongkesorn said the Pathum Thani revenue office was studying if Dhammachayo and the temple had taxable earnings from their business investments.

The Nation

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