Flushed out: The Buddhist monks caught playing poker

  • @AndrewBuncombe

Half a dozen leaders of South Korea's largest Buddhist order have been forced to resign amid a scandal in which monks were caught on video drinking, smoking and playing poker for high stakes at a memorial event for a dead Zen master.

The head of the Jogye order, which has around 10 million followers, or about a fifth of the nation's population, made a public apology yesterday promising "self-repentance".

The scandal erupted just days before Koreans observe a national holiday to celebrate the birth of Buddha, the holiest day of the religion's calendar.

But rather than preparing for the holiday, South Korea has been glued to television screens as channels show secretly taken footage of the senior monks' high-jinks at a luxury resort in the south-west of the country.

Rather than turning their thoughts to the master who had died, around eight monks can be seen drinking, smoking and playing cards at a lakeside resort. Gambling is forbidden in South Korea except at licensed casinos and racecourses. Some of the monks involved were believed to be abbots.

Prosecutors were called in after another senior monk made a complaint. That monk, Seongho, who uses one name told Reuters: "Basically, Buddhist rules say don't steal. Look at what they did, they abused money from Buddhists for gambling."

He said that during the monks' 13 hours of gambling, the stakes were as high as 1bn won, or around £540,000.

The behaviour of the supposedly abstemious monks, who were filmed on 24 April, has led to Korean media speculation about a power split within the order. Seongho said he had obtained a thumb drive that contains a video clip from a camera hidden in the hotel. He reportedly would not say who his source was because of recent threats made against him.

In his complaint, he said he had come forward to call for an investigation because he believed the senior monks would not be punished unless the issue was made public.