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    Murder Suspect Becomes Monk, Evades Police for 16 Years

    After his alleged involvement in the stabbing of three people, a man transformed himself into an abbot.

    A Buddhist abbot has been apprehended by authorities for his alleged role in a deadly nightclub stabbing that went cold 16 years ago.
    On Aug. 12 Zhang Liwei was whisked away by police in Chuzhou, a city in eastern China’s Anhui province, according to a report by The Beijing News published on Wednesday. The abbot is a member of the local chapter of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a governmental advisory body, and, until his arrest, headed the county-level Buddhist association. Police said Zhang confessed to his involvement in the violent crimes after authorities discovered his true identity when he attempted to go abroad.

    The abbot and four others are suspected of stabbing three people to death in a nightclub in 2000 in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province. A bounty was put on Zhang after the incident, and police said he’s been on the run ever since. Authorities said he fled Heilongjiang, changed his name to “Wen Shiguang,” obtained a new household registration, and assumed his sacred identity.

    “Everyone is flabbergasted,” an employee at the local religious affairs bureau told The Beijing News. “He spoke the local dialect; he was a hardworking and responsible person. Who would have thought that he could be involved in something like this?”

    According to reports, Zhang started his new life as a monk at Anhui’s Mount Jiuhua, one of China’s four sacred Buddhist mountains.

    Hui Qing, vice-secretary of the Buddhist Association of China and the former head of a Mount Jiuhua temple, said Zhang never underwent the traditional apprenticeship process — he just shaved his head, converted, and adopted a new name. Hui admitted that background checks were not particularly thorough in 2000, and that normally someone was only required to produce an ID card in order to join the monastic order.

    After Mount Jiuhua, Zhang hopped from temple to temple before settling in Fengyang, another city in Anhui province. Over the years he rose from being a groundskeeper to a prominent figure in the local community. Last year, he started financially supporting two underprivileged children who had lost their parents, The Beijing News reported.

    Monks who lived with Zhang said they knew little about his past, only that he was from northeast China. He never returned home or appeared to have any contact with his family, they said.

    Hui told The Beijing News that he believed that Zhang’s lie must have been his chance at redemption. “He must have done those good things to atone for his past sins,” said the monk.

    With contributions from Kevin Schoenmakers.

    (Eric Meola/The Image Bank/VCG)