Thai police raided four Buddhist temples on Thursday, arresting several prominent monks and worshippers in the year’s biggest such operation amid a crackdown on illegal financial dealings by temples.
The raids are the military government’s latest bid to reform Buddhism, which is followed by more than 90 percent of Thailand’s population of 69 million, but whose image has been tarnished by money and sex scandals involving monks.
“This is the investigation stage… it will all come down to facts and evidence,” police official Thitiraj Nhongharnpitak, of the Central Investigation Bureau, which is investigating the monks, told reporters.
More than 100 police commandos raided four temples in Bangkok, the capital, and the adjacent central province of Nakhon Pathom, in the early hours of Thursday.
Among those arrested was Phra Buddha Issara, 62, an activist monk who led street protests in 2014 and launched a campaign to clean up Buddhism, but gained enemies by publicly naming other religious leaders he accused of wrongdoing.
Buddha Issara was formally stripped of his position as a monk and sent to Bangkok remand prison to await trial on charges of robbery, forgery, and illegal detention of officials during the protests, his lawyer, Theerayuth Suwankaesorn, told Reuters.
Phra Phrom Dilok, 72, a member of the Sangha Supreme Council, which governs Buddhist monks in Thailand, was also arrested over alleged embezzlement of temple funds, police said.
Two other senior monks, Phra Sri Khunaporn and Phra Wichit Thammaporn, both assistant abbots of Bangkok’s Golden Mount temple, were also arrested over alleged embezzlement, they added.
Representatives of the three monks did not immediately respond to Reuters’ telephone calls to seek comment.