Thailand to check monks’ bad habits with ‘smart ID cards’ — Latest move by the junta to restore the tarnished image of the men in orange robes

© AFP/File | Thai troops searched Wat Dhammakaya temple earlier this year to arrest the controversial former abbot who is accused of money-laundering and remains at large

BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand’s Buddhist monks could soon be issued “smart ID cards” flagging any drug or criminal records, in the latest move by the junta to restore the tarnished image of the men in orange robes.The kingdom has around 300,000 monks, who are held in high regard as keepers of the national religion.

But in recent months the clergy has been plagued by a series of high-profile scandals ranging from sex and drugs to murders taking place at temples.

The junta, which took power in 2014, wants to reorganise Thai Buddhism with misbehaving monks first in their crosshairs.

“Monks across the country already hold the paper-based cards but the information is out-of-date, which makes it hard to verify their background,” Ormsin Chivapruck, an official at the Office of the Prime Minister, told reporters on Thursday.

Digitalised smart cards would enable up-to-date tracking with the monk’s monastic history recorded alongside any criminal offence or report of drug use, he added.

Image result for Prayut Chan-o-cha, photos

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha. TASS photo

The move is “to prevent fake monks using religion, or suspected wrong-doers from hiding their illegal acts behind orange robes,” he added.

Details will be discussed next week at a meeting of the Supreme Sangha Council, the body governing the national faith.

But rollout of smart cards may be complicated as all Thai men are expected by social convention to ordain for at least a few weeks.

Critics say the rigid hierarchy of the Supreme Sangha Council makes it unable to counter corruption or embrace change.

The government has already forced more than 46,000 temples to submit their financial accounts, amid claims of widespread irregularities.

The most famous monk scandal played out earlier this year as troops searched the temple of the mega-rich Dhammakaya sect on the outskirts of Bangkok, to arrest the controversial former abbot who is accused of money-laundering.

The abbot remains at large.

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BBC News

Thai police raid Dhammakaya temple in hunt for wanted monk

    • 16 February 2017

A woman trying to take her children to school is refused passage due to a police blockade in front of Wat Dhammakaya temple near Bangkok 16 February 2017

Police surrounded the site, blocking roads to and from the Dhammakaya temple. Getty

Thai police have begun searching a Buddhist temple complex in a bid to arrest an influential monk wanted over alleged money laundering.

Officers entered the site after previous attempts were thwarted when thousands of the monk’s devotees turned up in his defence.

The spiritual leader is believed to be inside the large compound.

Police said they did not find him on Thursday but would return on Friday to continue looking.

A Thai police spokesman said officers covered 15-20% of the complex. The search warrant was valid for 10 days, he said.

The Dhammakaya temple is a sprawling compound on the outskirts of Bangkok.

Its founder, Phra Dhammajayo, is accused of embezzling funds from the temple, but when officers attempted to search the site last June they were blocked by his supporters.

The 72-year-old abbot has remained inside the temple for months, saying he is too ill to face officials. He denies the allegations and says they are politically motivated.

A Buddhist monk walks inside Wat Dhammakaya temple in Pathum Thani province, Thailand, Thursday, 16 February 2017
The temple is famous for its massive golden dome. AP photo
Buddhist monks chant inside Dhammakaya temple while police block access to the place in Pathum Thani province, Thailand 16 February 2017
Police arrived before dawn to begin sealing off the streets. Reuters photo
Supporters of Wat Dhammakaya pray before a police line in front of the temple just north of Bangkok, 16 February 2017
Supporters of Phra Dhammajayo pray in front of the temple on Thursday. Getty

Thousands of police and soldiers surrounded the site before dawn on Thursday, blocking the roads leading to and from the temple and putting the area under military control.

“We are sealing off the temple and after that we will search all the buildings,” said Col Paisit Wongmaung, head of the Department of Special Investigations (DSI).

“If [the abbot] thinks he is innocent he should surrender and enter [a] judicial process,” he said.

A spokesman for the temple said he did not know if Phra Dhammajayo was inside.

“I don’t know his whereabouts – I haven’t seen him in about nine months,” AFP quoted spokesman Phra Sanitwong Wutthiwangso as saying.

There have been several failed attempts to persuade the former abbot to leave the temple, which is home to a charismatic Buddhist sect.

It has more than a million followers but has been criticised for commercialising Buddhism.

There is also speculation that the temple has links to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Both his government and one led by his sister were ousted by military coups in 2006 and 2014.

The temple, however, says it has no political affiliation and says it attracts Thais from all walks of life and political persuasions.

The military has been running Thailand since the coup in 2014.

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