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Killer monk? Police detain ‘murderer’ who became temple abbot after 16 years on the run

A suspected murderer on the run for 16 years in China found refuge in Buddhist temples, eventually rising to become an abbot, state media said on Wednesday.

Zhang Liwei was detained by police earlier this month on suspicion of stabbing three people to death with accomplices in 2000, The Beijing News reported.

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After the killings in his home province of Heilongjiang, deep in northeastern China, Zhang fled nearly 2,000km south to eastern Anhui province, changing his name and finding work as a temple cook and ticket-seller, the report said.

He later moved to the Longxing temple in Fengyang county, shaving his head and proclaiming himself a monk.

He became a member of a local political consultative congress – an organ of the county government – and two years ago the monks elected him abbot on the recommendation of his predecessor, according to the report.

He was unmasked only when he applied for a passport to travel abroad and submitted his fingerprints – which allegedly matched those of the wanted man.

The monks appreciated his efforts to improve their living conditions and buildings, the report said.

It added that the temple had donated around a million yuan (HK$1.16 million) to charitable causes in recent years and Zhang was supporting two rural orphans financially.

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But a neighbourhood nun was unmoved.

“Buddha tells us to be contrite,” the report quoted her as saying. “He should have turned himself in if he sincerely repented of what he did.”