The head of Phnom Penh’s Department of Cults and Religion has denied local media reports that the chief monk embroiled in an alleged sex scandal had fled his pagoda.
Municipal Department of Cults and Religion director Tep Kongkea told The Post on Wednesday that Pochentong Pagoda chief monk Van Vanny was carrying out his duties as normal.
“He has been staying in the pagoda. He has not run away. He goes out teaching students and offering blessings as usual,” Kongkea said.
On Tuesday, local media reported that Vanny had fled the pagoda in the capital’s Por Sen Chey district following a scandal after pictures of him in bed with a woman surfaced on Facebook.
“After a Monday meeting between himself, his alleged lover, municipal department officials and monk officials, Vanny disappeared on Tuesday morning, leaving Buddhist followers suspicious that a sexual relationship with the woman had indeed taken place,” local media reported.
Vanny could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
He had previously said the pictures had been altered to discredit him and Buddhism.
The municipal department and relevant authorities have investigated but could not discover the origin of the Facebook post, Kongkea said.
Prum Sophy, Por Sen Chey district deputy chief monk, also told The Post on Wednesday that Vanny remained in the pagoda, carrying out his activities as normal.
Monk officials had looked into the allegations and Buddhist followers had accepted that the matter was over, he said.
“Vanny has not fled anywhere. Why would he flee? He has not committed a criminal offence. No one filed a complaint. With a complaint not filed, the matter is over. But it is only on social media where unsubstantiated rumours and untruths can persist,” Sophy said.
Ministry of Cults and Religions spokesman Seng Somony said on Monday that the ministry had launched an investigation after the pictures were posted on Facebook.
Kongkea suggested after the scandal initially broke that someone had taken separate photographs of Vanny and a woman and photoshopped them together in order to defame them.
However, Kongkea was unaware of any reason why anyone would want to do so. He said the monk and the woman had been invited for questioning and they had denied the accusations.
Kongkea said the pair claimed not to have had any relationship that violated the monkhood.
“They have denied the allegations, saying that the photos are cut and mixed together. They say they are just edited photos and she and the monk have never had a sexual relationship,” he said.
Defamation of a chief monk has a damaging effect on Buddhism and the monk himself, Kongkea said, and if those who altered the photographs were found, they would be sued.