Police are investigating the second case of stolen Buddhist relics since December after thieves broke into Wat Ounalom near Phnom Penh’s Riverside in the early hours of yesterday, a senior official said.
Mok Chito, director of the Ministry of Interior’s central justice police department, said five gold-plated statues, a pair of elephant tusks and some copper urns were stolen from the pagoda, a popular tourist site.
“They [the thieves] broke the window of the temple and took out all this stuff,” he said. “The monks learned about the loss at about 3am, so the thieves took the statues before that.”
A team of investigators had been tasked with recovering the items but so far had not identified any suspects, Chito added.
Proeun Soeun, a monk at the pagoda, said the stolen items had been stored in a reception area, where monks had discovered the window smashed.
That area, Soeun added, was used for welcoming delegations and was not an area monks stayed in. Furthermore, he said, it was locked day and night.
“The Buddha statues that were stolen were offerings from Samdech to the Great Supreme Patriarch [Tep Vong],” he said, referring to a title used to describe Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The incident follows the theft of an urn containing remnants of the Buddha from Kandal province’s Oudong Mountain in December.
The urn was later recovered from a house in Takeo province, leading to the arrest of Keo Reaksmey, 24, who is accused of the theft, and a 39-year-old woman accused of buying the melted down gold from other statues stolen from Oudong.
Following that theft, four security guards and a villager were arrested. They were sent to prison on charges of theft after police found Buddhist artefacts stolen from the mountain in 2010 in one of the guard’s houses.