Sri Lanka scandalized by monk’s Mercedes-Benz – The New York Times

PER VINAYA, MONKS ARE BARRED FROM LAY PEOPLE’S AFFAIRS.

ONLY STUDY AND TEACH DHAMMA. NO HANDLING MONEY. NO TRADING.

NO LYING, NO CHEATING. MUST MAINTAIN HARMONY AMONG MONKS AND SOCIETY.

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN MONKS DO POLITICS AND INTERFERE IN LAY PEOPLE’S MANAGEMENT AFFAIRS?

GREED!

LUST FOR POWER AND WEALTH. ALWAYS!

Sri Lanka scandalized by monk’s Mercedes-Benz – The New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/16/world/asia/16iht-lanka.1.7138351.html

COLOMBO — The tale of the Buddhist monk and his shiny, new Mercedes-Benz has become a national drama that has enthralled Sri Lanka and left many questioning the political – and religious – ethics of the cleric’s hawkish political party.

The roots of the scandal lie in a special perk for Sri Lanka’s lawmakers that allows them to import cars without paying the country’s massive duties, which often double or triple the cost of a vehicle.

The law bars them from selling their tax-free cars for five years, but it’s common practice for lawmakers to do so, importing expensive vehicles in their names and turning the keys over to wealthy businessmen for a hefty fee.

Ellawala Medhananda, a monk who is also a legislator, has denied accusations that he sold his new silver, E-class Mercedes for a huge profit. But even as he insisted the car was still his, a top political rival was driving around town in it.

For many here, even allegations that a Buddhist monk would join in the shady practice and break the law to make tens of thousands of dollars were too much, especially when much of the country is struggling to eke out a living amid a bitter civil war.

“They came into politics promising to set new standards for the political mainstream, but see what they are doing today. This is unacceptable,” an opposition lawmaker, Gayantha Karunathilake, said Monday, referring to Medhananda’s party, the monk-led Jathika Hela Urumaya, or National Heritage Party.

The monks’ party called accusations that it sold the car to businessman Hemantha Nishantha a political smear. “We have not sold or transferred the ownership of vehicles. This is merely a well-planned political campaign to discredit our party and weaken the government, which has shown military success against terrorism,” said a party spokesman, Udaya Gammampila.

The monks’ party, which calls for the government to aggressively fight against mainly Hindu Tamil separatists, wields great influence among the 70 percent of Sri Lankans who are ethnic Sinhalese, most of them Buddhist.

The conflict, one of Asia’s longest running, has left some 70,000 dead since 1983 and displaced hundreds of thousands. The country was also hard-hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and many people are still struggling to recover, having lost family and livelihoods.

The car controversy exploded into near farce recently when the opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, an intense political rival of Medhananda, turned up for a meeting with another monk at a Buddhist temple driving the Mercedes.

Wickremesinghe said the businessman, Nishantha, who happens to be a supporter of his, lent him the car.

Through intermediaries, Nishantha declined requests for comment. In an interview in The Sunday Leader newspaper, he said he paid 13 million rupees, or $116,000, to an intermediary for the car and had received an offer from the National Heritage Party to buy it back for less than half that amount.

Medhananda’s exasperated party colleagues accused Wickremesinghe of essentially stealing the monk’s car.

=================

Sri Lankan monk slammed for Mercedes – USATODAY.com

http://www.usatoday.com/news/topstories/2007-08-18-3187266474_x.htm

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The tale of the Buddhist monk and his shiny, new Mercedes-Benz has fueled a bizarre national drama that has angered Sri Lankans and tainted a group of revered religious leaders with corruption.

The monk — leader of a hawkish Buddhist party in the governing coalition — insists the scandal is a fiction created by political rivals to smear him with accusations he illegally sold the car at a huge profit.

Shrugging off the monk’s renunciation of material goods, his comrades have insisted the silver, E-class Mercedes remained his — even as his bitter political enemy was seen driving it around town.

“They (the monks’ party) came into politics promising to set new standards for the political mainstream, but see what they are doing today. This is unacceptable,” opposition lawmaker Gayantha Karunathilake said Monday.

The roots of the scandal lie in a special perk for lawmakers that allows them to import cars without paying the country’s massive duties, which often double or triple the cost of a vehicle.

The law bars them from selling the cars — often giant SUVs or stylish luxury sedans — for five years; Lawmakers routinely defy it, turning over the keys to wealthy businessmen for a hefty fee.

But allegations that devout monk-legislator Ellawala Medhananda made tens of thousands of dollars by selling his new car was too much for many Sri Lankans, especially when much of the country is struggling to eke out a living amid a bitter civil war.

Medhananda’s party, the monk-led Jathika Hela Urumaya, or National Heritage Party, fought back against the accusations, which have dominated the news here for more than a month.

“We have not sold or transferred the ownership of vehicles. This is merely a well-planned political campaign to discredit our party and weaken the government, which has shown military success against terrorism,” party spokesman Udaya Gammampila said.

The monks’ party, which calls for the government to crush the mainly Hindu Tamil separatists and opposes proposals to share power with the ethnic Tamil minority, has only eight seats in the 225-member parliament. But it wields great influence among the 70 percent of Sri Lankans who are ethnic Sinhalese, most of them Buddhist.

The conflict, one of Asia’s longest running, has left some 70,000 dead since 1983 and displaced hundreds of thousands.

The car controversy, which has been simmering for months, exploded into a near farce recently when opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe — an intense rival of Medhananda’s — turned up for a meeting with another prominent monk at a Buddhist temple driving the Mercedes.

Wickremesinghe said the businessman who reportedly bought the car, Hemantha Nishantha, was his supporter and lent it to him.

Medhananda’s party colleagues accused Wickremesinghe of essentially stealing the monk’s car, and threatened to press charges.

Through intermediaries, Nishantha, the businessman, declined requests for comment.

In an interview in The Sunday Leader newspaper, he said he paid $116,000 to an intermediary for the car and had received an offer from the monk’s party to buy it back for less than half that amount.

Many Sri Lankans said the involvement of a monk in what would otherwise be a routine corruption scandal made it difficult to digest.

Manoj Dissanayake, a local businessman, said it underscored that monks should stay away from politics. “For centuries, the role of Buddhist monks was to advise rulers and not to become rulers,” he said.

The Morning Leader newspaper said Medhananda should be held to a higher ethical standard than other politicians.

“It could be argued that transfer of such (vehicle) permits by (members of Parliament) to outsiders for millions of rupees is an open secret,” it said in an editorial last month. “But should MP monks, said to be the epitome of morality and virtue, engage in such shady practices?”

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