The Ministry of Cults and Religion is to take action against the director of its provincial department in Takeo, after the senior civil servant allegedly took bribes from a man who has been passing himself off as a Buddha.
Ministry spokesman Seng Somony declined to comment yesterday but told local media on Monday that the ministry would discipline provincial department director Chuong Van for last week receiving money from Buddha impersonator Thean Vuthy.
“The department director received money from a man who passed off himself as a Buddha,” Mr Somony said. “That seriously impacts the ministry’s reputation.”
According to a video clip posted by a local news website, Mr Vuthy handed money to some officials including Mr Van and Tuy Kimsreang, the deputy governor of Prey Kabbas district, when they went to investigate his activities last week.
“I don’t want to bribe you, I just want to give you some money to have lunch,” Mr Vuthy said as he passed money to the officials.
Mr Vuthy, who built Kandal province’s Tuol Preah Reachea pagoda, became notorious after he was accused of claiming to be the fifth reincarnation of the Buddha, known as the Maitreya, and “offending Buddhism” in the process.
In 2014, he was arrested and later released after admitting his mistakes and promising not to do it again.
Mr Van said Mr Vuthy only gave officials money for lunch because a group of officials went to investigate him at his home and he had no food to offer them.
“At that time I walked away from him but he called me back and handed over me some money,” said Mr Van.
He said he was reluctant to take the cash but did not refuse because other officials, including the deputy district governor, accepted.
“I received $300 from him for having lunch with some officials,” Mr Van said. “I don’t know if it was a trick or not.”
Mr Van added that he was prepared to explain his actions to the ministry. “I really regret that I was careless,” he said.
Mr Kimsreang said he had no intention to commit corruption.
“Mr Vuthy just provided some money for us to have lunch, I did not demand the money from him,” he said.
Mr Kimsreang added that the Prey Kabbas district governor had already called him and told him not to do the same again.
“I am not going to be disciplined further because it is the first time something like this has happened,” he said.