Monks Charged for Drug Use; Clergy Looks for Replacements

A former Kompong Speu pagoda chief and his four underlings were charged with using drugs by the provincial court on Friday and sent to pretrial detention, leaving clergy searching for monks to fill the disgraced pagoda, officials said.

Wat Preah Damboukbon’s chief monk Orm Pheakdey, 37, was defrocked and arrested on Wednesday along with monks Eang Liheng, 38; Pha Sophea, 32; Set Ra, 28; and Nary, 22. Police visited the pagoda in Phnom Sruoch district after receiving reports of suspicious activity there and found drug paraphernalia strewn across the monks’ living quarters.

All five admitted to smoking crys­tal methamphetamine under questioning, while the four lower-level monks said Mr. Pheakdey was their drug dealer, police said.

“The investigating judge decided to imprison all five after they finished the questioning,” said Tim Leng, chief of the provincial police’s anti-drug bureau. He said they were charged with conspiracy to use drugs and providing a place to use drugs.

Mr. Leng said he did not know why all five had received the same charges despite the more serious accusations against Mr. Pheakdey. Investigating Judge Tong Putheara could not be reached.

Sam Sorpheann, director of the provincial cults and religion department, said the province’s chief monk for the Thammayut Buddhist sect, Muong Chakrey, had appointed an interim chief monk while the ministry looked for a permanent replacement.

“There is only one monk there now and the provincial chief monk will recruit more monks,” he said.

If previous requests for a change in leadership at the pagoda had been heeded, however, the pagoda would have never fallen into such a state, according to Phuong Sophoeun, chief of the district’s cults and religion office.

“I requested a change a long time ago,” he said, adding that villagers had stopped attending services at the pagoda even before the arrests.

“If everything had been done before, there would not have been such an incident,” he said. “Building trust is a difficult thing, but losing it can happen in a second.”

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