Thai police raided a Buddhist temple complex on Thursday to arrest a popular abbot accused of embezzling 40 million US dollars but were thwarted by thousands of his followers who said he is too ill to be taken into custody.
The operation at Wat Dhammakaya, a monastery north of Bangkok known as one of the wealthiest in Thailand, began at 5 a.m. and was broadcast live on TV in a dramatic twist to a months-old standoff.
Police arrived at the temple's gate and served search and arrest warrants to temple representatives, before dozens of officials entered the temple's compound.
But hours later police couldn't arrest the abbot, Phra Dhammachyao, despite searching all the areas in the complex but one.
Dhammachyao's case has enthralled the nation with its twists and turns and the conflict between law and religion it has posed.
Several scandals in recent years have cast a shadow over the Buddhist clergy in Thailand.
Dhammachyao is accused of money laundering and links to embezzling 1.4 billion baht (40 million USD) from a now-defunct credit union.
He has barricaded himself inside his temple, ignoring three police summonses and an arrest warrant.
He has avoided arrest for over two months, claiming he was too ill to report to police for questioning.
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