Police on Monday called a press conference to explain the results of an investigation into the motives of a 24-year-old farmer accused of masterminding the heist of the country’s only Buddha relics from Odong mountain, as well as several valuable statues of the Buddha.
Keo Reaksmey was arrested and charged last week for having carried out the theft in December, while a gold seller, Siek Sarath, 37, was arrested and charged as an accomplice for receiving stolen goods. Mok Chito, director of the Interior Ministry’s judicial police department, said Monday that Mr. Reaksmey was fascinated with religious artifacts and had a history as a petty criminal and cattle rustler.
“He is used to stealing valuable things, so he tried to steal the remains and he went to the mountain and checked out the street and the surrounding area,” said Lieutenant General Chito.
After he had stolen a Buddha statue from a pagoda in June, Mr. Reaksmey learned about the valuable Buddha relics from a news broadcast and became obsessed with the remains, according to Lt. Gen. Chito.
“He said that he saw the King [Father Norodom Sihanouk] bring the ashes to the top of the mountain,” Lt. Gen. Chito said, referring to a procession attended by about 2 million people in 2002 in which the King Father took the relics from the railway station in Phnom Penh to a $4.5 million stupa at Odong.
On the afternoon and evening of December 9, Mr. Reaksmey allegedly drove his motorbike from his home in Takeo province to Odong, a distance of more than 100 km. He hid the bike in a bush, snuck past several inattentive security guards, used a hammer and screwdriver to open the alcove where the urn containing the relics was kept, put them in a sack, and drove them back to his wooden home in Khvav commune, where he placed them in his kitchen, Lt. Gen. Chito said.
“Yesterday [Sunday] we also found the body of another Buddha near a pond behind the house,” Lt. Gen. Chito said, referring to the statue stolen earlier last year.
Ms. Sarath, the gold seller, is accused of purchasing one of the golden Buddha statues Mr. Reaksmey stole, although police say he sold stolen wares to many vendors.
“She bought a lot more compared to the others, and she whispered to [Mr. Reaksmey] that he should not sell it to anyone else,” Lt. Gen. Chito said.
According to police, the authenticity of the relics and urn found in Mr. Reaksmey’s kitchen have already been verified by Royal Palace Minister Kong Sam Ol and Om Lum Heng, second deputy chief monk of the Mohanikaya order.
“Om Lum Heng and Kong Sam Ol have already confirmed that the relics are 100 percent the stolen relics,” Lt. Gen. Chito said, adding that no experts were needed to further examine the find.
Prince Sisowath Thomico said Monday that the Queen Mother had prayed to the relics, which are now being kept at the Royal Palace.
“The queen went to pray before the relics…. But I can not say if the queen believes that they are authentic,” Prince Thomico said.
Son Soubert, a former adviser to King Father Norodom Sihanouk, said that the government needed to conduct scientific tests to dissipate doubts the public might have that the recovered relics were authentic.
“A verification must be done to identify the relics and see if they are real,” he said, suggesting that the remains be carbon tested.
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