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perspective

The difference between soliciting and laundering money


Dhammakaya and its accusers owe buddhism and the public prompt explanations

Whereas money-laundering is a crime, religious solicitations are entirely legal, if sometimes controversial. In a potentially explosive development, the accusers of former Wat Dhammakaya abbot Phra Dhammachayo have charged him with what they call a clear-cut case of money-laundering. His followers counter that he is being unjustly persecuted out of “envy” because the temple attract massive amounts of money in donations. 
This is a showdown that threatens to jeopardise the country’s high standing in the world of Buddhism, which means it is crucial that both camps tell their sides of the story urgently and with the utmost clarity.
The worrying grey area between acceptable and dubious religious solicitations appears around the globe, their legality often in question. Wat Dhammakaya has been in receipt of questionable donations and its soliciting practices have been controversial. It is the responsibility of Dhammachayo’s accusers to identify exactly which donations they deem illegal or part of a money-laundering scheme in disguise.
Dhammakaya, meanwhile, must answer accusations related to a former head of a scandal-plagued cooperative who happened to hold a senior position at the temple. As long as the temple’s former abbot offers no clear-cut rebuttal regarding that follower’s role and actions, public suspicion will not only linger but also intensify.
The former cooperative chief is a key figure in this case. He has reportedly given testimony that is damaging to Dhammachayo, suggesting that the case hinges on what he said, along with what Dhammachayo eventually avows in court and whatever money trail might link them. Despite determinations on the timing on specific monetary transactions, though, this doesn’t seem like an overly complicated case. The most important information must surely be contained in the contentious cheques gathered as evidence, and the authorities ought to be able to readily determine how, where and when they were issued. So it is no surprise that Dhammachayo is being widely urged to step forward now and defend himself with credible evidence. One opinion poll has found most people in favour of him doing so in court, and soon, perhaps reflecting public scepticism about the temple’s practices and intent as well as fears that the case will be unnecessarily magnified and damage Thailand’s admired status as a Buddhist nation. 
While religious belief and scepticism can usually accommodate one another, there is no room for fraud in any religion. Simply put, Dhammakaya cannot continue claiming to be a pillar of Buddhism while its beloved former abbot is facing a serious criminal charge. Dhammachayo could solicit donations and raise as much money as he liked, but laundering money for shady operations would be fundamentally unacceptable by every measure of law and morality. His followers need to understand the difference – and see that it is preferable that Dhammachayo agree to go to court and get this settled before Thai Buddhism is harmed further. Dragging out the drama on ostensibly political grounds benefits no one. 
The authorities, for their part, must make it clear that this is not an attack on the sect or its practices, but rather justified legal action in a case of alleged fraud.
Opinion is split in three at the moment. There are those who dislike Dhammakaya and believe Dhammachayo is guilty of the charge. Others maintain faith in the temple and suspect persecution. The rest are confused or ambivalent about the case and yet concerned that Thai Buddhism has much to lose if the affair is prolonged. 
In fact no one wins if the delays and posturing continue. Only if and when the case against Dhammachayo is settled fairly and transparently will everyone be free of this anxiety.

Published : December 16, 2016

By : The Nation