China is investigating allegations of financial and sexual misdeeds by the abbot of the Shaolin temple, the birthplace of kung fu and inspiration for Bruce Lee's films.
The investigation was made public amid speculation that Shi Yongxin, the abbot, failed to lead a group of monks on a martial arts tour to Thailand because he was being questioned.
There had been rumours that Mr Shi would use the trip to flee China to escape the allegations that he embezzled funds and fathered children out of wedlock with female followers, including nuns.
Officials at the 5th century temple, the home of Zen Buddhism which
the abbot has transformed into a multi-million-dollar commercial enterprise, have vigorously denied the claims.
In a letter of apology sent to the Thai organisers of the tour, the abbot
explained that he became too busy
with work to make the trip.
The abbot's aides have reported his accuser, a purported former disciple who made his claims online writing under a pseudonym, to police for "fabricated and malicious insults and libel".
However, officials in the city of
Dengfeng in Henan province have said they have been asked to investigate the claims. "Our bureau takes this extremely seriously and will swiftly clarify ... and ensure a correct understanding of the matter," the religious affairs department said yesterday.
Since becoming abbot in 1999, Mr Shi has created a Shaolin "brand" after years of state repression, setting up foreign outposts and dispatching touring display teams of highly choreographed warrior monks.
Earlier this year he announced plans for a $297?million (pounds 190?million) Shaolin complex in Australia, including not just a temple and a kung fu academy, but also a theme park and a golf course.