Two Charged Over Theft of Buddha Relics on Odong Mountain

Kandal Provincial Court on Sunday charged a 24-year-old-man and a 37-year-old woman in connection with the theft of an urn containing relics of the Buddha from an elaborate stupa atop Odong Mountain in December.

Farmer Keo Reaksmey was arrested on Thursday after the urn was reportedly found sitting in his kitchen, while Sek Sareth was arrested the same day.

“Keo Reaksmey, 24, has been charged with stealing goods under articles 353 and 357 of the Criminal Code,” which carries a prison sentence of between three and 10 years, Judge Lim Sokuntha said in court. Article 357 refers to thefts carried out under aggravating circumstances.

“Sek Sareth, who was charged with receiving stolen goods and knowingly benefiting from the proceeds…could possibly face between two and five years in jail,” the judge added.

“She had a job, which is a gold seller,” he said. “She bought the stolen goods.”

The golden urn containing the relics was stolen along with a number of golden statues of the Buddha. Ms. Sareth is alleged to have bought one of these, which helped pay for a $20,000 car the suspect bought, Judge Sokuntha said.

Five security guards tasked with protecting the royal site were arrested shortly after the theft and are currently detained in Kandal provincial prison, awaiting trial.

“We won’t keep the people who are not guilty in jail,” Judge Sokuntha said.

“We’re still investigating the case. If we find out that they are not guilty, we’ll let them go,” he said.

Deputy provincial police chief Roeun Nara said police continue to search for more people who may have been connected to the crime, which sparked nationwide outrage.

“The authorities are working on the case,” he said.

“There is more than one person who benefited from it. There are more,” he added.

Provincial prison director Chab Sineang said Mr. Reaksmey had confessed to the crime in prison on Friday.

Also on Friday, Ministry of Culture Secretary of State Khim Sarith said he did not doubt the authenticity of the recovered relics, because they resembled pictures of the originals, which were placed in the stupa in 2002 by late King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

The relics were also handed to Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol in a ceremony on Friday. Royal family member Prince Sisowath Thomico, a former assistant to the King Father, said that he hoped the relics would undergo a thorough examination.

“They belong to the Royal Palace, but the King does not have the expertise to see if they are the real ones or not,” he said.

“I don’t know the plan, but I wish there could be some kind of investigation to see if they are the real ones or not.”

He said he did not trust simply comparing pictures.

“I can’t buy that,” he said. “You cannot compare just based on pictures. There has to be expertise with modern ways, X-rays that are available to make sure that those relics are the real relics that were stolen.”

(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)

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