A pagoda chief and his four underlings were arrested in Kompong Speu province on Wednesday for smoking crystal methamphetamine, only for the young monks to name the chief as their dealer, officials said.
Local police were directed to Wat Preah Damboukbon in Phnom Sruoch district by local villagers who saw a woman enter the chief monk’s dormitory around noon and alerted them to what they suspected to be prostitution, deputy district police chief Suon Chan said.
But upon arriving at the scene, police sat outside the dormitory for three hours out of respect for the monkhood, waiting for the chief to open his door. When he did, the woman and two civilian men attempted to leave, Mr. Chan said.
“She said she had known the monk for about two years, but she did not say that she slept with the monk,” he said. After interviewing the three civilians, he said, “there was no evidence to inculpate them.”
However, that was not the case for the monks.
“Police inspected the room and found two homemade drug pipes and six empty sachets in the chief monk’s room,” said Chhorn Vibol, deputy chief of the district’s cults and religion office, who was present during the raid.
Chief monk Orm Pheakdey, 37, and the only other monks living at the pagoda—Eang Liheng, 38; Pha Sophea, 32; Set Ra, 28; and Nary, 22—were all defrocked and sent to the office of the provincial anti-drug police, he said, explaining that investigators did not know Nary’s full name.
“Previously, there were complaints from the pagoda committee and people around the pagoda” about suspicious activity there, Mr. Vibol said.
“But there was no evidence,” he added. “This time, it was an obvious crime and authorities could take action.”
All five monks tested positive for crystal meth, said Tim Leng, chief of the provincial police’s anti-drug bureau.
Mr. Pheakdey, who had served as pagoda chief for four years after entering the monkhood 14 years ago, said he had only used drugs once, Mr. Leng said. The other former monks admitted to smoking meth up to 20 times and said Ms. Pheakdey had introduced them to the habit, charging them 15,000 to 20,000 riel, or $3.75 to $5, per fix, he said.
Mr. Leng said he would wait for a detailed report from district police before sending the five suspects to the Kompong Speu Provincial Court.
Muong Chakrey, the province’s chief monk for the Thommayut Buddhist sect, said the news of Mr. Pheakdey’s arrest did not surprise him, as he’d already been contacted numerous times with complaints about the man’s behavior.
“We have called and reprimanded him three or four times already,” he said, adding that he was in the process of finding a replacement for Mr. Pheakdey.
Seng Somony, a spokesman for the Ministry of Cults and Religion, said the ministry was working to strengthen religious discipline in a monkhood beset by crime and bad behavior in recent years.
“We are taking follow-up action and will continue to prepare for a nationwide monk meeting in the near future in order to strengthen the doctrine,” he said.