Monk sued over A$240k 'study grant'

Mr Lee said he was unhappy with the monk for his "integrity issues". Venerable Guojun denies that he had agreed to use the money from Mr Lee Boon Teow solely for doctoral studies.
Mr Lee said he was unhappy with the monk for his "integrity issues".
Mr Lee said he was unhappy with the monk for his "integrity issues". Venerable Guojun denies that he had agreed to use the money from Mr Lee Boon Teow solely for doctoral studies.
Venerable Guojun denies that he had agreed to use the money from Mr Lee Boon Teow solely for doctoral studies.

A Buddhist devotee told the High Court yesterday that he gave A$240,000 to a prominent monk in 2010 to pursue a doctoral degree but Venerable Guojun used part of the money to buy property in Australia instead.

Ven Guojun, the former abbot of Mahabodhi Monastery, bought a A$545,000 one-bedroom apartment in Sydney two months after businessman Lee Boon Teow made full payment of the "study grant". The property was sold in June this year for A$810,000 (S$828,000).

Mr Lee, who is also a trustee and a former management committee member of the monastery in Bukit Timah, has sued Ven Guojun for the return of the A$240,000.

"We trusted him because as a man (who has) renounced all worldly possessions, integrity forms the basic principle of his life. We gave him money for studies so he must use that money for that purpose," he said when cross-examined by Ven Guojun's lawyer, Mr Joseph Liow.

Mr Lee said he was unhappy with the monk for his "integrity issues".

"You can't be a monk in the day and a metrosexual at night," he said in Mandarin, in a reference to photographs taken last year of Ven Guojun in sports attire at the Marina Bay Sands hotel with a friend.

Mr Lee said he first handed over A$40,000 in cash to Ven Guojun, followed by a transfer of A$200,000 to the monk's bank account in Australia in April 2010.

He said he found out in June 2015 that Ven Guojun had bought an apartment in Sydney. The sale was completed in June 2010, shortly after the bank transfer.

From the bank statements provided by Ven Guojun, Mr Lee concluded that the monk had amassed a fortune of at least A$3 million by 2009. This figure was derived from calculations based on dividend payments credited into the account.

Ven Guojun acknowledges that he had received A$199,979 from Mr Lee but denies he had agreed to use the money solely for doctoral studies. He contends that it had been a gift for his own use, in a Buddhist practice known as "dana". He also contends that the money was given to thank him for blessing Mr Lee's construction business and for marriage counselling.

But Mr Lee counters that he was not facing any marital crisis; neither did his business "turn around" as a result of Ven Guojun's prayers.

The president of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, Venerable Kwang Phing, is lined up to testify for Mr Lee on various issues.

This is the second of three legal disputes brought by Mr Lee against Ven Guojun. A defamation suit arising from a Buddhist sculpture was settled last month. Another defamation suit is pending.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2017, with the headline 'Monk sued over A$240k 'study grant''. Print Edition | Subscribe