Rape charges filed against monk who won million-dollar lottery

A woman who says that she was forced to have sex with a monk in Naypyitaw on four occasions last year filed a formal complaint against him with the police on Thursday.

An officer at the Htone Bo police station in Pobbathiri township confirmed that charges had been laid against Sayadaw Sandima of the Aye Metta San Parahita Taung Ni Lay monastery.

Sandima first attracted media attention nearly two years ago when he won a 1.5bn-kyat ($1.13mn) prize in the state-run Aungbarlay lottery in March 2019. 

According to reports at the time, he had paid a total of 500,000 kyat ($377) to buy 2,000 tickets in the lottery, which is held monthly. 

“It is true that the case has been filed. The township Sangha Maha Nayaka Association has not yet commented on the arrest,” the officer said, referring to the official body that governs monastic affairs.

After the complaint was filed, the monk was arrested at Taung Ni Lay monastery at around 4:30pm on Thursday and taken to Mani Zawtika Yone monastery in Pobbathiri township, where he was forced to remove his monk’s robes later that day. 

The entrance to the Aye Metta San Parahita Taung Ni Lay monastery (Photo: Nyan Hlaing Lin / Myanmar Now)

However, Sayadaw Bhaddanta Kumara, the chairman of the township’s Sangha Maha Nayaka Association, which is headquartered at Mani Zawtika Yone, told Myanmar Now that Sandima had not yet been fully stripped of his monastic status.

“I was browbeaten by Sandima, who used various threats against me,” said the monk’s accuser

The monk faces charges of rape under section 376 of the penal code, which carries a penalty of 10 years to life in prison.

His accuser is a 33-year-old woman who teaches Japanese at the Aye Metta San charity school, which is attached to the monastery.

According to her lawyer, Yu Ya Chit, the woman was invited by the monk to teach at the school early last year because she was facing financial difficulties. 

She said that she was subsequently forced to have sex with him on four occasions. Each time, she said, he threatened to have her dismissed from her teaching position if she didn’t comply with his demands.

“I was browbeaten by Sandima, who used various threats against me. I was powerless to resist because my husband was unemployed and I had full responsibility for my son and my mother,” she said.

She added that she remained silent about the attacks at the time, but decided to come forward so that other young women wouldn’t face similar exploitation. 

“Now my life is devastated. My marriage has collapsed. My parents are also ashamed. But I will be satisfied if this stops with my case,” said the woman, who divorced her husband in December.

“I make these rules not for my sake, but for theirs,” said Sayadaw Sandima, describing the strict separation of male and female students at his monastery’s charity school 

Calls to five mobile phone numbers registered under Sandima’s name went unanswered when Myanmar Now tried to reach him for comment. 

Young women practice a traditional dance at the Aye Metta San Youth Development Charity School. (Photo: Nyan Hlaing Lin / Myanmar Now)

According to a lay devotee who spoke on condition of anonymity, Sandima first entered monastic life as a novice when he as a child and has been a fully ordained monk for nearly 27 years.

The day before his arrest, he spoke to Myanmar Now about the strict rules observed at his monastery’s Aye Metta San Youth Development Charity School.

“Male students stay on the south side of the Dhamma Hall and female students on the north side. Boys are not allowed to come to the north side unless they have a valid reason, and girls are not allowed on the south side for any reason. I make these rules not for my sake, but for theirs,” he said.

He said that the school has about 250 students from Shan, Kayah, Kachin, Chin and Karen states. They range in age from two years old to university age.

The Aye Metta San Youth Development Charity School was founded in the 2009-2010 academic year and is recognized by the Department of Social Welfare.

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