Pagoda Chief Caught With Major Meth Stash

The chief monk of a pagoda in Stung Treng province was defrocked on Friday, just hours after a raid on his living quarters turned up nearly a kilogram of crystal methamphetamine, officials said.

Son Nimol, chief of the provincial police’s anti-drug bureau, said officers swooped in on Mai Samoeurn’s room inside Wat Khetiyaram in Stung Treng City at about 11:40 a.m. and seized 936.7 grams of crystal meth.

He said officers from his department became suspicious of the 34-year-old pagoda chief after he made numerous trips to the Laos border.

“He told police that he brought the drugs from across the Laos border,” Mr. Nimol said.

City police chief Chhouk Komal said Mr. Samoeurn was defrocked following his arrest.

Meach Eang, chief of the provincial cults and religion department, said Mr. Samoeurn had traveled extensively across Cambodia, Thailand and Laos over the past few years, neglecting his pagoda. He closed a school for monks, ignored advice from senior clergy and caused infighting among the pagoda’s leadership, Mr. Eang said.

Villagers living near the pagoda recently complained about Mr. Samoeurn’s conduct to the district cults and religion office, he added.

“He never fulfilled his duty as chief of the pagoda,” he said.

Provincial chief monk Chheun Mony said members of the clergy who used or trafficked drugs would face the full force of the law.

“Monks are supposed to strictly uphold rules and principles, and when monks break the rules, it is wrong,” he said.

Provincial authorities questioned Mr. Samoeurn at the provincial police headquarters into the night on Friday, and he will be sent to the provincial court this weekend, according to Mr. Nimol.

The monkhood has been plagued by crime in recent years, including rape, child rape, violence, murder and drug use. Senior members of the country’s Buddhist clergy have refused to acknowledge a pattern, however, and have dismissed the scandals as aberrations.

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