Monks’ Latest PR Problem: Armed Robbery

Already wracked by recent scan­dals involving monks eloping with teenage girls and imposter monks begging for alms, Cam­bo­dia’s Buddhist holy men may face waning public trust amid cases of phony monks taking more than just offerings.

On April 4, Phnom Penh Muni­cipal Court charged two men with committing armed robbery while dressed as monks.

Bul Lang, 27, and Much Von, 26, were accused of tying up a family and taking a motorbike at gunpoint in Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district on March 26, police said.

“They disguised themselves as monks and begged for water, and then robbed a family,” Phnom Penh municipal serious crime po­lice chief Chuon Narin said. “[Im­poster monks] beg for food and wa­ter, or they ask to use a toilet, and then they steal stuff, like mo­bile phones.”

Thieves and robbers masque­r­ading as monks are surprisingly com­monplace, but police find it difficult to investigate suspects be­cause their disguises make it hard to differentiate between the real and the fake, Chuon Narin added.

Ten monk imposters were ar­rested in Phnom Penh and Kandal in November and early December and charged with fraud. And at least 11 more have since been ar­rested following orders from Mo­ha­nikya sect Supreme Patriarch Tep Vong, who called for closer mon­itoring of monks’ public activities, said Chhoeng Bunchhea, Tep Vong’s cabinet chief.

“When authorities arrest them, our role is to confiscate the robes and then allow them to be punished according to the law,” Chhoeng Bunchhea said.

“I would like to appeal to people to be careful, because they have sophisticated tricks,” Chhoeng Bunchhea said of imposters.

Those found guilty of masquerading as monks should face serious consequences, Chhoeng Bunchhea added.

“Don’t just educate and then re­lease them. They have de­stroyed the culture of the nation,” he said.

But imposter monks aren’t the only problem testing the Buddhist faithful.

In March, 130 people demon­stra­ted in Banteay Meanchey province in favor of the removal of a chief monk accused of raping a 14-year-old girl. In September, monks were defrocked for drunkenness and vandalism at a Svay Rieng province pagoda. And in August, a Pursat province monk hacked another with a machete over an unpaid $5 debt.

Srou Kimthea, 70, said she wants to pay respect but is afraid to help individual monks or invite them into her home, because she cannot tell the difference between true believers and confidence men.

“My neighbors told me of monks begging for alms, going into people’s houses, stealing money and telephones, asking to go to the toilet and sitting near their daughters and so on,” Srou Kimthea said.

Chbar Ampov market vendor Huot Sokpoeu said he is always on the lookout for swindlers dressed in saffron-colored robes.

“We have to bow to them,” Huot Sokpoeu said, but added that he always has his eyes wide open.

“I have to examine their attitude, speech and character,” he said. “I am afraid of [imposters].”


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