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Date: 1/16/99

Publication: The Nation

Section: Headlines

Committee to decide on Jan 22 about temple's testimony

AN Education Ministry committee investigating controversies surrounding Wat Dhammakaya will decide on Jan 22 whether the temple's explanations in defense of itself were justified or not, the ministry's deputy permanent secretary Suwat Ngerncham said on Friday.

Suwat, who chairs the committee gathering information about allegations against the temple, visited Wat Dhammakaya in Pathum Thani on Wednesday to gain information on five points, he said.

He listed the points as the teachings of the temple, management and activities of the temple, controversial monks, controversial temple buildings and the allegations that Abbot Dhammachayo had United States citizenship.

Suwat said he had met Deputy Abbot Phra Thattachiwo and five other monks, who had answered all his questions about the controversies. The session lasted for four hours.

''I can't reveal the information now, because I have yet to hold a meeting of the full committee on Jan 22 to see whether it will accept the explanations or not,'' Suwat stated.

He said some information might be passed on to an investigative committee of the Sangha Supreme Council.

On the allegations that senior monks and the abbot had acquired several plots of land, Suwat said he had received ''clear'' information that there was nothing amiss and people with the same surnames as senior monks and senior officials of the temple owned companies and businesses.

''The temple admitted the abbot had several plots of land and has evidence that can be checked, but he did not use a single baht of donations to buy land,'' Suwat said, adding: ''People who come to work for a temple still have to earn money to support their dependents.''

The temple is facing a multi-pronged investigation conducted by various agencies, but it is known to have placed ''seeds'' in various agencies to help defend it.

In another development, Crime Suppression Division police on Friday went to the Pathum Thani provincial administration to check documents submitted by the Dhammakaya Foundation.

Pol Lt-Col Rapeepong Supornsri, deputy chief of CSD Subdivision 3, said police would check the documents which the foundation had filed with the provincial administration to check for possible irregularities.

According to Rapeepong, the Dhammakaya Foundation was initially named Dham Prasit Foundation and was registered in Bangkok. The foundation changed its name to Dhammakaya Temple Foundation in January 1982. The foundation's name was changed to Dhammakaya Foundation on Aug 17, 1983.

Sutham Tejawanit, secretary of the foundation, said the name had been changed to inform Buddhists that Wat Dhammakaya and the Dhammakaya Foundation were separate entities.

According to the documents, the foundation reported on Dec 31, 1976, that it had cash of Bt9,930, a savings account of Bt13,200 and a fixed account of Bt50,000. Its land was worth Bt322,800 and its buildings were worth Bt250,000; other assets totalled Bt240,000. Its overall assets that year were worth Bt888,570.

But on Dec 31, 1997, the foundation reported that the value of its assets, excluding land, totalled Bt171.39 million. It has land worth Bt144.3 million.

Meanwhile the temple has issued a statement denying that it embezzled gold donated for the statue of the late Phra Mongkol Thempmunee, or Luang Por Wat Paknam, whose teaching is cited by the Dhammakaya temple.

A goldsmith who made the gold statue said the temple had solicited 1,000 kilograms of gold but only half of it had been used for the statue.

The statement said the temple had yet to make a plinth for the statue and this would bring the gold content of the statue up to 1,000 kg.

The temple said it had had to display the statue without the gold plinth because a lot of followers wanted to see it.

The Nation

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