Buddhist Monk Held After Millions of Meth Pills Found in Monastery

Myanmar police are holding a Buddhist monk after finding more than four million methamphetamine pills in his monastery. The head of Maungdaw Township, in Rakhine State, police took him into custody and told AFP that they found more than 400,000 methamphetamine pills in his car. An anti-drugs task force also uncovered weapons as well as a further 4.2 million pills stashed in the monastery, police told reporters.

An abbot and a novice worker were taken into custody as they drove their Toyota Kluger to Na Ta La village in Southern Maungdaw, according to local media.

Myanmar is one of the largest narcotics producers in the world, with opium and cannabis also widely produced as well as amphetamines.

The Guardian reported that police confiscated 98 million stimulant tablets from the region in 2016, and that the number of drug prosecutions had increased by 50 percent from 2015. The Irrawaddy paper claims it is the first time in Maungdaw that a monk has ever been apprehended for drug dealing. The paper reported a local resident had described the arrested monk as "well-known among Buddhist locals."

The police did not place a value on the haul, though in 2015 the U.N. estimated each meth pill could retail for $2, which would make the monk's haul worth $8.4 million. The news comes amid other claims of corruption, including money laundering, among monks in monasteries who are expected to eschew the material world when they enter the monastery. Across Southeast Asia's poorer regions, becoming a monk can be seen as a way to elevate one's position in society.

Drug trafficking and related crimes are rising across Myanmar, specifically in Rakhine State, where a large number of displaced Rohingya people reside. Myanmar is a popular place for drug trafficking, thanks to its mountainous terrain and porous borders, and a U.N. report published in 2015 found that methamphetamine continues to be the drug of choice throughout Southeast Asia.