The Ministry of Religions and Cults said on Monday that it had assigned officials to investigate an alleged sexual encounter between a chief monk and a woman after pictures were posted on Facebook.

Ministry spokesman Seng Somony said the Municipal Department of Religions and Cults was investigating the case, in which a sexual encounter was alleged to have occurred at Pochentong Pagoda in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district.

The department is conducting an investigation, he said but has not yet sent a report to the ministry as it was still being finalised.

“We have visited the location [the pagoda] but some aspects of the issue are still unclear,” he said.

Municipal Department of Religions and Cults director Tep Kongkea suggested that someone had taken separate photographs of the monk, Van 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 they are able to find whoever altered the photographs, they will be sued.

Photographs of the monk and the woman were shared on Facebook on Monday and caused something of an outcry, hence the ministry’s decision to investigate.

There are four offences that immediately lead to the defrocking of a monk – murder, sexual intercourse, stealing or falsely claiming to possess special spiritual powers.

The defrocking process works much like criminal trials in the civilian world, Wat Sras Chak senior monk Bun Chhun explained to The Post in 2015.

Monks are given the chance to defend themselves, and may appeal a defrocking to the district, provincial and national level within the clergy, he said.