Phoney monk vexes envoy

A fake Buddhist monk soliciting donations from the public has drawn the ire of the Thai ambassador.

Last week Fairfax Meida revealed a Chinese national, dressed in the working robes of a monk and sporting a shaved head, was walking the streets of Wellington offering bracelets to passers-by.

Several people complained that the man then asked for a donation, and was not happy about small offerings. One woman said she was led to an ATM after telling the man she only had a few coins.

Police later tracked down the man and gave him a warning.

The phoney monk's hard-sell routine appears similar to cases from Asia several years ago. There were reports of a similar monk spotted in Auckland earlier this month and in Australia earlier this year. One person in Sydney claimed a monk pulled a portable credit card machine from his robes to ask for a donation.

Thailand ambassador Noppadon Theppitak said he found the news upsetting and was concerned the man's actions could tarnish the reputation of monks in New Zealand.

Having studied Theravada Buddhist practices and been briefly ordained as a monk himself, Theppitak said the reception of offerings - known as "binthabat" - was part of a Buddhist monk's daily routine.

The purpose was to give followers the chance to nurture the religion by way of offerings and for the monks to offer guidance. But monks would never approach the public and offerings were usually only food, which was accepted before midday as they were not allowed to eat after that time.

Should monks need to collect large sums of cash it would be done at a set time and venue by monks who had official identification.

It would also often be publicly announced by embassies and high commissions, he said.

"Therefore, in support of the good-hearted people in New Zealand of all faiths, I would like to reiterate that they should also exercise caution in their donation by questioning the authenticity of the monk-like persons asking for money, especially if the begging takes place after midday."

Wellington police spokesman Nick Bohm said the man's visitor permit expires on April 2 and while he could make an application to extend it, it was unlikely it would be granted.

The man had arrived from Australia on March 2 but there was no evidence linking him to similar activities there, he said.

Fairfax Media