An Australian tourist was arrested and sent to Siem Reap Provincial Court on Friday for allegedly stealing three pieces of carved stone from the temples of Angkor, police and court officials said Sunday.
Steven Doyle, 36, was detained Friday morning at the City Angkor Hotel after a cleaner found the three pieces of stonework in his room, said Heritage Police Chief Tan Chay.
Tourists taking pieces of stone from the temples have long been a problem, but Doyle’s case is particularly serious, Tan Chay said.
“In the past, people would take a small piece…and we would not arrest them, only confiscate [the stone],” Tan Chay said. “But this man took pieces the size of his thigh.”
Doyle initially claimed that he purchased the 30 kg of sculpted stones from a Cambodian, Tan Chay said. Police did not believe him, and after further questioning, Doyle confessed, he added.
“In fact, he stole these stones from Angkor Wat and Bayon temple,” Tan Chay said, adding that he picked the stonework off the ground rather than chiseling it off a temple.
Chao Sithol, Heritage Police judicial bureau chief, said the case was now in the hands of the court.
Provincial Prosecutor So Vat said Doyle has not been charged because he arrived at the court too late in the day Friday to properly question him. “We only confiscated his passport and have allowed him to stay in his hotel room until the hearing [today],” So Vat said.
On Sunday, a receptionist at the City Angkor Hotel said that Doyle had already checked out.
Soeung Kong, a deputy director-general of the Apsara Authority—the government agency managing Angkor park, said Sunday that tourists have to be made better aware that there are serious legal consequences to taking anything from the temples.
“If Steven Doyle took the pieces of stone, then he will be punished under state law,” he said.
The Australian Embassy declined comment.