Chief Monk Commits Suicide Over Road Construction Debt

A popular chief monk who was found dead on Monday at his pagoda in Kompong Speu province committed suicide after becoming overburdened by debt from a road construction project he had undertaken, a police official and senior monk said Thursday.

Sam Sak, chief of the provincial police’s serious crimes bureau, said a nun at the Srah Khlaing pagoda in Odong district’s Paing Lvea commune found Poun Van Ath’s body in his room at the pagoda on Monday afternoon. The monk’s body was then sent to Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh, where he was officially pronounced dead, he said.

After two days of investigating, the bureau chief said, police on Wednesday ruled the death a suicide.

“It is not a murder case because we investigated and found an empty bottle of poison at the head of his bed and a note left by the chief monk,” he said.

According to Mr. Sak, the suicide note only asked that his car be sold to pay a debt to a local concrete seller, and that another person pay back $1,000 Poun Van Ath had lent him.

Mr. Sak said he suspected the monk killed himself because he did not have enough money to finish building a 16-km road that would have spanned three communes and ended at the pagoda.

“Firstly, it could have been because he did not have enough money to spend on his road project, and secondly, it could have been because he was disappointed that no high-ranking officials supported him in constructing the road,” he said.

Dou Vandoeun, chief monk for Kompong Speu province, said he believed accumulated debt from the road project drove the monk to suicide.

“There is nothing else besides this, because he had no quarrel with anyone,” he said.

Khiev Khuon, a lay priest who had been friends with Poun Van Ath, however, said he did not believe the monk killed himself.

“I think he might have taken too much medicine and had a reaction,” he said.

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