In Bangkok Thailand shuts ultra-rich temple's TV channel amid scandal

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Supporters of the controversial Wat Dhammakaya temple gather at the temple grounds in northern Bangkok, in June 2016 play

Supporters of the controversial Wat Dhammakaya temple gather at the temple grounds in northern Bangkok, in June 2016

(AFP/File)

Thai authorities have ordered a controversial Buddhist temple to suspend its 24-hour TV channel, as police redouble efforts to arrest the spiritual leader of the scandal-hit sect.

A cat-and-mouse game between investigators and the powerful Wat Dhammakaya temple in Bangkok has staggered on for months over allegations its former abbot accepted illicit funds.

Police are reluctant to raid the super-rich temple's 1,000-acre compound after previous attempts saw thousands of devotees of the breakaway order turn out to defend the 72-year-old monk.

Authorities suspect Phra Dhammachayo of accepting embezzled funds worth 1.2 billion baht ($33 million) from the owner of a cooperative bank who was jailed.

Eager to avoid clashing with devotees on temple grounds, police have repeatedly allowed deadlines for the monk's surrender expire.

But the stand-off has heated up in recent weeks, with authorities leveling new accusations against the well-connected monk and moving to target the temple's acting abbot for sheltering him.

Thai police are reluctant to raid the super-rich Wat Dhammakaya temple's 1,000-acre compound in northern Bangkok after previous attempts saw thousands of devotees of the breakaway order turn out to defend their spiritual leader, Phra Dhammachayo (C) play

Thai police are reluctant to raid the super-rich Wat Dhammakaya temple's 1,000-acre compound in northern Bangkok after previous attempts saw thousands of devotees of the breakaway order turn out to defend their spiritual leader, Phra Dhammachayo (C)

(AFP/File)

On Wednesday Thai broadcasting authorities ordered the temple to suspend its television channel for 15 days, citing "inappropriate" content.

The channel appeared to be off the air on Thursday.

Colonel Paisit Wongmuang, chief of Thailand's Department of Special Investigations (DSI), accused the temple of using its media arm to lure supporters to the compound and thwart police's attempted raids.

"In previous searches we found that the temple has used television as propaganda to attract people to come for (religious reasons), but instead used people to meditate and block the temple's gates," he said.

The satellite station, called Dhammakaya Media Channel (DMC), broadcasts across multiple continents and airs everything from meditation teachings to cartoons and daily news.

It is part of a broader PR arsenal, including print media and active social media pages, that has established Wat Dhammakaya's presence in countries spanning the globe.

In a statement released Wednesday night, the temple denied the police's allegations and said it was preparing to fight the black-out order.

While the movement says its core focus is on teaching meditation, critics accuse the sect of propagating a cult-like brand of Buddhism that promises benefits in the afterlife in exchange for donations.

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