Thai police search controversial Dhammakaya temple for accused money-laundering former abbot

Thai police search controversial Dhammakaya temple for accused money-laundering former abbot

Thai police search controversial Dhammakaya temple for accused money-laundering former abbot

Updated 16 February 2017, 19:45 AEDT

Hundreds of police are searching a giant Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Bangkok in the hunt for a former abbot facing charges of conspiracy to launder money.

Hundreds of Thai police have entered a controversial Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Bangkok after a standoff with the temple's officials and supporters.

Key points:

  • Dhammakaya sect has been embroiled in a money laundering scandal
  • Founder Phra Dhammachayo refuses to meet police for questioning
  • Previous attempts to raid temple have been blocked by supporters acting as human shields

The Dhammakaya sect is known for promoting a Buddhist philosophy that encourages followers to become wealthy.

It has been embroiled in a money laundering scandal and its founder has refused to meet police for questioning.

Former abbot Phra Dhammachayo, 72, faces charges of conspiracy to launder money and receive stolen goods, as well as taking over land unlawfully to build meditation centres.

His aides dismiss the accusations as politically motivated.

Previous attempts to raid the temple — which is 10 times the size of Vatican City — were blocked by supporters acting as human shields.

The complex contains an outdoor meditation space that holds 100,000 people, with the centrepiece being a giant flying saucer-shaped golden dome made of a million small Buddha statues.

This time, police are acting on an executive order from Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-cha — a security measure dubbed "the dictator's law" by critics.

Published in the Royal Gazette on Thursday, the order allows forces to enter the area at will, control entry or exit, summon anyone inside, carry out arrests, searches or demolitions, or do anything else they see fit.

"Blockades are now enforcing, prohibiting anyone from entering or leaving," the temple's public relations department said on its Twitter feed early on Thursday morning after about three thousand officers arrived at the complex before dawn.

Although several police detectives reportedly entered for negotiations earlier in the day, two officials from the temple told the ABC police must wait until the monks eat their midday meal before a raid can take place.

Around midday, the ABC could confirm that several hundred police officers had entered the temple complex.

While the Buddhist order claims to be politically neutral, it is widely thought to have close ties with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra — a key political enemy of the current military regime.

The previous high-profile raid attempts and subsequent back-downs highlight the opaque politics within both religious organisations and law enforcement in Thailand.

This month Thailand's new king intervened and picked a respected monk from another branch of Buddhism to become the country's top religious figure, snubbing a monk with ties to the Dhammakaya temple.