Myanmar is one of the most Buddhist nations in the world, with around 48 million practicing citizens. It is also one of Southeast Asia's largest narcotics producers, known for funnelling large quantities of opium, cannabis, and methamphetamine to neighbouring countries. So it stands to reason that religion and drug trafficking come together every now and then—as they did when police discovered a stash of more than four million methamphetamine pills hidden within the otherwise inconspicuous Shwe Baho monastery on Monday.
Monk Arsara, a respected leader at the monastery—located in the western town of Maungdaw—was busted while driving towards the Bangladesh border by members of Myanmar's anti-drug task force who had received an anonymous tip off. He was transporting some 400, 000 methamphetamine tablets, as well as hundreds of dollars' worth of local currency, in his car. The police then visited Arsara's monastery and discovered another 4.2 million pills, along with a grenade and some other ammunition. The pills would be worth more than $4 million on the street.
"This is not a normal case, and when we were informed that the monk was arrested, we were all shocked," local police officer Kyaw Mya Win, told Myanmar news reporters.
According to The Irrawaddy, this seizure is the first time that police in Maungdaw have arrested a monk for drug dealing. But while they don't arrest religious drug lords that often, Myanmar authorities have been cracking down on the country's burgeoning drug trade in recent years. A huge bust in 2016 saw 21 million methamphetamine pills seized near the Chinese border, and another 6.2 million were seized on the site of a Maungdaw construction company—near the monastery where the most recent stash was found. Across Asia last year, a record 98 million methamphetamine tablets were confiscated by police.
Arsara's religious career is now very likely over. Drug trafficking is not considered very monk-like, and Myanmar's Religious Affairs Minister Soe Min Tun indicated that faith wouldn't be enough to save him from prosecution.
"What will happen to the monk is that he will have to give up his monkhood right away and face trial as an ordinary person," he said.
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