MANDALAY — A man who scraped gold from Mandalay’s ancient bronze Mahamuni Buddha image was arrested on Thursday, said Mahamuni Pagoda trustees.
“We saw him on our security cameras, scraping out the gold from the back of the Mahamuni image on Wednesday evening. We then deployed more security and were able to arrest him when he returned for the second time the next day,” said U Soe Lin, president of the pagoda’s trustee board.
Tun Aung Kyaw, 30, from Mandalay’s Maha Aung Myay Township, was arrested by security at the pagoda and handed over to the police on the same evening.
With a short piece of steel pipe tucked up his sleeve, Tun Aung Kyaw mingled with other pilgrims who were applying gold leaves to the 6.5-ton image as offerings.
Devotees have regularly applied gold leaves to the image over the centuries. Except for the face, the image is covered with layers of gold believed to be about 15 centimeters thick.
Tun Aung Kyaw then used the pipe to scrape the gilded gold from the back of the Buddha image, the security cameras show.
“During interrogation, he said the gold was sold to a goldsmith in Mhan Myo Zay Market. And he has been scraping out the gold since October 10,” said U Soe Lin.
According to the trustees and police records, Tun Aung Kyaw took about 3.5 grams of gold each time he visited the image. He received between 170,000 to 200,000 kyats from the goldsmith for 3.5 grams.
The trustees of the pagoda said this is the first time gold has been removed from the image.
The trustees added that the security of the pagoda will remain the same, however, they will do more watching over the security cameras.
Tun Aung Kyaw was detained at the police station in Chan Mya Tharzi Township and is under interrogation, according to police. He is being charged with theft and defaming Buddhism.