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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Discovery of Buddha statue spells trouble for couple

A Banteay Meanchey couple have accused police of trying to extort them after they sold a Buddha statue head to a Thai man. Photo supplied
A Banteay Meanchey couple have accused police of trying to extort them after they sold a Buddha statue head to a Thai man. Photo supplied

Discovery of Buddha statue spells trouble for couple

A villager in Poy Char commune in Banteay Meanchay has accused local police of attempted extortion after he sold a Buddha statue he found on his property to a Thai national.

Tum Sandan, 49, yesterday said he unearthed the relic on July 21 and sold it to the man from Thailand for 70,000 Thai baht (about $2,000) and $100 cash. He said he did not know the buyer’s name.

Sandan said on July 24 the Phnom Srok district police chief, Yort Sophal, intimidated his wife into handing over most of the proceeds.

“Yort Sophal, the district police chief, accused me of illegally smuggling the ancient artefact,” Sandan said, adding that the officer told him his crime was the equivalent to treason. Sophal denied intimidating the couple, saying he had simply confiscated the money for evidence.

“This is illegal smuggling of an ancient statue,” Sophal said. “The money, we’ve already given to heritage police as evidence.”

Sandan said that he was feeding his cow when he found the statue head buried in the ground. He initially thought it was an explosive left over from the war but discovered its true nature after cleaning it.

Thai Norak Sathya, secretary of state at Ministry of Culture and Arts, said he believed the couple was likely trying to hide information relating to the identity of buyer.

“By law, the couple committed a crime, because they sold an ancient statue to foreigner. They should have given it to authorities,” he said.

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