thai police, policija.jpg
Photograph: Photo by Roberta Romero, used under CC BY-ND

Police withdrew from a Buddhist temple in Bangkok on Thursday after a human blockade prevented them from arresting the abbot on charges of money laundering.

At least 1,000 supporters of the controversial Dhammakaya Temple had formed a human blockade, according to police and temple officials.

"The monks allowed us to enter the grounds but the supporters are blocking the way into the inner sanctum. Therefore we are unable to carry out our duty," Police Major Suriya Singhakamol told reporters.

"We have cooperated with police but we cannot dictate what our supporters choose to do," said the monk in charge of communications, Phra Sanitwong Wutiwangso.

A group of supporters calling themselves "The Devotees of Phrathepyanmahamuni" released a statement refusing to recognize the authority of the police.

"[We] agree that [the abbot] should turn himself in and enter the judicial process but only when ... democracy has returned [to Thailand]," the statement said.

The supporters argued that "the lack of a democracy ... leads to absence in civil liberties in the judicial process."

Thailand has been ruled by a junta since a coup in May 2014.

"Waiting for the political situation in Thailand to return to democracy ... is not an attempt to delay," the supporters said.

"Especially since the Thai government has promised that democracy will soon return."

Police accuse the temple's abbot, Phra Dhammachayo, of money laundering with a former temple disciple, the head of an investment fund, who has been charged with embezzlement.

According to police, the disciple laundered 1.2 billion baht (341 million dollars) through Dhammachayo's personal account.

Temple officials say it was a donation.

Phra Dhammachayo suffers from deep-vein thrombosis and cannot venture outside temple grounds without serious health consequences, the temple said. 

Wat Dhammakaya is known throughout Thailand for its distinctive "UFO" shape and its lavish ceremonies.

The temple is one of the fastest-growing sects in the country and has close ties to political parties and the moneyed elite. 

Related stories

Latest news

Fire at asylum seeker accommodation in Sweden

A fire overnight at an accommodation centre for asylum seekers in Sweden caused injuries to at least a dozen residents, police said on Sunday.

Analysts: Croatia's economy rises 3.3%, hitting new high since 2008

Croatia's economy expanded 3.3 per cent in the last quarter of 2016, compared to Q4 2015, according to projections of economic analysts polled by Hina, who ascribe this record high rise to increasing personal consumption, higher industrial output rates and growing investments.

Fate of German hostage in Philippines unknown as deadline passes

The fate of a 70-year-old German man held captive for three months in the southern Philippines was unknown after a deadline for a ransom to be paid passed Sunday, a military spokesman said.

Dengue fever risk growing in Thailand, authorities say

Dengue fever is posing a greater threat in Thailand, particularly in the southern region, the country's Disease Control Department said Sunday, as the number of people killed by the mosquito-borne disease this year stands at six.

Brexit fears plague locals and expats alike in southern Spain

As Britain's departure from the EU approaches, the anxiety is most palpable on Spain's Costa del Sol, where so many Britons live. What will happen to the economy if the expats one day have to leave?

'La La Land,' politics to share spotlight at Oscars

The Oscars will take the stage Sunday for an awards ceremony whose outcome feels like a foregone conclusion - a win, or 10, for "La La Land."

Suspected drunken driver injures 28 at New Orleans Mardi Gras parade

A pick up truck driven by a suspected drunken driver plowed into a crowd of spectators at a Mardi Gras parade in the US city of New Orleans on Saturday, injuring at least 28 people.

"Moonlight" big winner at independent film awards

The coming-of-age drama "Moonlight" won six prizes including best feature at the 32nd Film Independent Spirit Awards Saturday, claiming the Hollywood spotlight on the eve of the Oscars.

Trump: I won't attend White House Correspondents' Association Dinner

US President Donald Trump said Saturday that he does not plan to attend the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner this year.

US Democratic Party chooses Tom Perez to be next party chief

The US Democratic Party elected former labour secretary Tom Perez as its next party chief at a meeting in Atlanta on Saturday.

73-year-old man dies after car ramming in Germany

A 73-year-old male pedestrian died from his injuries after being run over when a car rammed into people in the south-western town of Heidelberg, police said Saturday.

Syrian government vows retribution for Homs attacks that killed 42

The Syrian government vowed retribution for synchronized attacks on Saturday in Homs City that left 42 security personnel dead and reportedly involved up to six suicide bombers.