Chinese 'CEO' Monk Has Been Cleared of Embezzlement

A monk practises outside the Shaolin temple
A monk performs kung fu outside the Shaolin temple in Henan. The abbot, Yongxin Shi, has just been cleared of embezzlement by government officials. GETTY/CancanChu

A Chinese monk who turned his 1,500 year-old temple into a commercial empire has been cleared by government officials of charges that he used temple funds to finance a luxury lifestyle.

The officials found that Abbot Shi Yongxin's investments were carried out for the benefit of the temple and not for his personal gain, the FT reports.

Yongxin went into hiding in 2015 after a former disciple accused him of fathering children and embezzling money meant for the Shaolin Temple in Henan. The temple is widely regarded as the birthplace of Kung Fu, and features in many martial arts movies.

The abbot invested a lot of time and effort promoting the Shaolin Temple internationally and was nicknamed the CEO monk. According to the FT, he met Tim Cook, Nelson Mandela, and Queen Elizabeth II on his travels and in 2015, Yongxin went to Australia to establish a Kung Fu theme park.

The FT also reported that as the temple's prestige grew, so did Yongxin's luxury lifestyle, to the extent that he was given a car worth 1 million yuan ($145,000) for his services to tourism and bought a cloak made with gold thread, valued at around 160,000 yuan ($23,000)

However, government investigators—in China religious institutions are regulated by the state— cleared him of corruption, after finding that several million yuan donated by disciples, was used for renovation, repair, and other temple purposes.

The FT quoted the investigators telling the Henan Daily newspaper : "In the survey, we did not find the use of shareholdings to obtain dividends or other personal gain, and found no transfers of shares, forged accounts, or personal invasion of Shaolin Temple assets."

Investigators did find the Abbot guilty of profiting from selling incense ten years ago but it was not clear if he faced any punishment.