SA’ANG DISTRICT, Kandal province – The chief monk of Tuol Krasaing pagoda was defrocked on Wednesday after crashing his sport utility vehicle while drinking and driving and wearing a military police uniform, according to police.
Phang Meas, a 70-year-old monk at Tuol Krasaing pagoda, was in the car with the chief monk, Khan Heng, at the time of the crash.
Phang Meas said Mr. Heng stopped to buy beers on the way to his father’s funeral and began drinking them while driving. That’s when he put on a military police uniform labeled with the name “Second Lieutenant Sen Theavy” over his robes.
“He was wearing the uniform so that people would not know a monk was driving the car,” Phang Meas said. “I’m happy he’s not coming back. He was always drinking wine and scolding other monks.”
Sdoeung Sar, a lay priest at the pagoda, said that Mr. Heng would often lash out at other monks and abuse his power over them. He said he tried to guide Mr. Heng’s behavior, but had no luck.
“I always suspected he was drinking, he would slur his words and curse at other monks, but we never had the proof,” said Mr. Sar. “His actions were unacceptable, but it was his right to command everything,”
Mr. Heng arrived at Tuol Krasaing pagoda in Sa’ang district two years ago to replace the outgoing chief monk who had resigned. The outgoing chief recommended Mr. Heng and the pagoda agreed, said Mr. Sar.
Villagers living in Tuol Krasaing village said it was an open secret that Mr. Heng was a heavy drinker.
“The people no longer believe in the pagoda,” said Srieng Vibol, a farmer who lives behind the pagoda but stopped going for blessings after hearing too many bad rumors about Mr. Heng. “I still won’t go there anymore even though he’s gone now.”
Tuol Krasaing village chief Sin Thol said many of the villagers had stopped attending the pagoda during Mr. Heng’s tenure.
“People around here did not have faith in the chief monk and did not make any offerings to the pagoda because he was drinking wine all the time,” he said.
Khim Sorn, Phnom Penh’s chief monk, said there is no screening process to weed out unscrupulous candidates for chiefs of the city’s pagodas.
“We have no system to prevent one individual from being chosen for chief of a pagoda because we don’t know beforehand who is good and who is bad,” he said.
Sa’ang district deputy traffic police chief Vong Khlaing said Mr. Heng was taken to the Kandal Provincial Court on Thursday and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, property damage and impersonating a military police officer.
Mr. Heng is now in pretrial detention at Kandal Provincial Prison, he added.