Moneybags monk raises brows with court battle

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 July, 2009, 12:00am

A 102-year-old Buddhist monk in Shenzhen took a businessman to court for an unpaid loan of 1.2 million yuan (HK$1.36 million), sparking queries from netizens as to how a monk amassed such a fortune, the Nanfang Daily reported yesterday.

In the Guangzhou Intermediate People's Court on Friday, a legal representative of Venerable Master Ben Huan of the Hong Fa Monastery said the master had lent 1.2 million yuan to a businessman surnamed Xiao in 2000. They presented to the court three loan receipts as evidence, each slip showing that Mr Xiao had borrowed 400,000 yuan from Ben Huan.

The monk's representative said Mr Xiao had failed to pay back the money, and asked the court to help recover the loan.

Mr Xiao's lawyer, however, gave a different account. He said Mr Xiao had borrowed 400,000 yuan only once and was forced by one of Ben Huan's disciples to sign three receipts. The businessman told the court he had used three personal properties as collateral for the loan.

However, 800,000 yuan in mortgaged properties was unpaid and was settled by the monk.

Mr Xiao's lawyer also questioned Ben Huan's ability to accumulate the wealth and requested that the court direct the monk to declare his assets.

The case was an appeal lodged after the Tianhe District People's Court ordered Mr Xiao to repay the 1.2 million yuan, as he had failed to prove he was forced to sign the receipts, and no police report had been made.

The dispute has drawn the attention of many netizens who asked how a monk could have so much money.

'Where did an ordained monk get all that money?' a forum poster named Ms Wang said. 'Buddhists are not supposed to be greedy or have many possessions.'

However, Hong Fa Monastery's abbot, Venerable Master Yin Shun, told the Nanfang Daily that Ben Huan was a highly respectable figure among mainland Buddhists. His livelihood was supported by his disciples, and he lent the money to help Mr Xiao's workers after a factory was damaged by fire.

He said Ben Huan had led an extremely humble life and intended to spend the amount on monastery works and for charity purposes several years ago. He added that the lawsuit to reclaim the debt was filed by the monk's followers, not by him.

Ben Huan still holds senior positions, such as vice-chairman of the Chinese Buddhist Association's Consultative Committee and honorary vice-president of the Buddhist Association of Guangdong Province.