BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's top religious body on Friday gave a green light for the first step in a process that could lead to the disrobing of a Buddhist monk wanted for money laundering, a senior official said.
The move came almost three weeks after police and soldiers besieged the scandal-hit Dhammakaya temple to hunt for its former abbot, Phra Dhammachayo - a standoff which has tested the power of Thailand's military junta.
Phra Dhammachayo is wanted for questioning on money-laundering and numerous charges of building on land without authorization. He has been stripped of his monastic rank by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, but secular authorities have no power to remove the protection afforded by his monk's robes.
The head of the National Office of Buddhism, Pongporn Pramsaneh, told reporters that the top religious body, the Supreme Sangha Council, acknowledged the case against Phra Dhammachayo at a meeting on Friday.
He said the government office would now forward the case to a top governing monk to proceed according to a religious law on leaving the monk hood.
"This is the first step, and the last step will be the disrobing of Phra Dhammachayo," Pongporn said.
There is no specific time frame for the procedure, Pongporn said, which could lead to the temple's former abbot ordering Dhammachayo to be disrobed. Such an order could come even if the monk cannot be found.
(Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)