LOWELL -- The Cambodian government's long religious reach came down hard on a Buddhist community leader recently, the disciplinary action aimed at cooling a simmering controversy at the Buddhist temple project.

On Nov. 29, Min Khin, Cambodia's Minister of Cults and Religions, announced the suspension of the Venerable Nhem Kimteng, a monk who holds a government position as director of higher Buddhist education.

Kimteng was helping to lead the Community of Khmer Buddhist Monks' building project in Pawtucketville.

No Published CaptionSun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our Smugmug site.
No Published Caption

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our Smugmug site.
In April, he was seen on videotape having sex with a woman who was also in a leadership role, a scandal that sparked outrage in the local Cabodian community and a lawsuit against those who secretly made the tape.

The video, showing Kimteng and Maya Men in a room at the Buddhist Trairatanaram Temple in North Chelmsford, quickly spread throughout the Cambodian community.

In a statement written in Khmer and sent to local Buddhists, Khin said Kimteng was relieved of his duties because of his actions on the tape.

Kimteng's government salary and other allowances were frozen as of late November, Khin said. Kimteng's salary was not disclosed.

Members of the Cambodian community who had condemned Kimteng's actions said they were thrilled by the news.

"I'm ecstatic that finally justice is being done," said Sam Meas, a former CKBM executive committee member. "It was despicable for him to do what he did. I'm hoping he will be defrocked at some point because he no longer has the moral authority to be a monk."

Former City Councilor Rithy Uong, a board member of the upstairs group at the Chelmsford temple, praised Cambodia's firm action against Kimteng.

"It was very, very shameful and very disgraceful to the community what he did," Uong said. "Hopefully, this will teach not just the higher monks, but all monks, the lesson to be faithful to the vows they take. The ministry's actions shows that they did not take this matter lightly," Uong added.

Buddhist monks are required to remain celibate in their religious vows. The Ministry of Cults and Religions has not announced whether Kimteng will be defrocked for violating those vows.

Kimteng's whereabouts are unknown and he could not be reached for comment.

The Sun first reported the sex-tape story in April after receiving reports about the video.

In the video, Kimteng is shown engaging in sexual activity with Maya Men, a woman whom he worked with at the Community of Khmer Buddhist Monks' temple project in Pawtucketville.

Men filed a lawsuit in May against five men she alleged played a role in illegally producing or distributing the tape. Under oath, she denied she was having sex with Kimteng in the video.

Men claimed the taping and distribution of the video without her permission violated her right to privacy, her constitutional rights, and that the defendants intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her with their actions.

The defendants are: Meas, Sovann Khon, Denys Meung, Chour Veng Ly, and Venerable Cheng Leang, who is a Buddhist monk.

All the parties in the lawsuit agreed in June to enter mediation in hopes of settling the suit.

James Boumil, Men's attorney, said, "The parties are working on a statement concerning the pending lawsuit. Until all speak together, my only remark concerning the suit is 'no comment'."

Some Cambodian-Americans have renewed their calls for Men to be told to leave the CKBM temple project because of her actions with Kimteng.

"Any one that committed a shameful act and disgraced the Buddhist religion should not have any official title or leadership role in the temple, period," Uong said.

The CKBM project website lists Men as an executive committee member overseeing the temple's daily activities and managing the Buddhist monks' appointments.

Chantha Khem is chairman of the Khmer Cultural Council, a group that petitioned the Cambodian government to investigate the scandal. 

He and Sovann Khon, another KCC member, said they'd also like to see CKBM head monk Sao Khon disciplined for defending Kimteng.

"The crooked monk who tried to cover things up should be gone," said Khem, whose comments were translated from Khmer to English.

In April, the CKBM's board of directors, including Sao Khon, issued a statement saying they "unanimously decided that Venerable Nhem Kimteng committed no wrongdoing," and he was allowed to continue his Buddhist monkhood in the U.S. and Cambodia. The statement also questioned the authenticity of the sex tape.

Samkhann Khoeun, a spokesman for the CKBM temple project, did not respond to a request for comment.

The website for the CKBM's Lowell temple project still lists Kimteng as an executive committee member. It also notes he holds a PhD in Buddhist philosophy from Delhi University of India.

Follow Moran on Twitter @lylemoran