Dec 29, 2013

Rape complaint Case against Girish Chandra Varma only after corroborating evidence

TNN | Dec 29, 2013

BHOPAL: A day after recording statement of Girish Chandra Varma, chairman of Maharishi Vidya Mandir schools group in a nine-month old complaint of rape against him lodged by a school teacher, the police on Saturday said their investigation continues and a case against Varma would be registered only after corroborating allegations.

Meanwhile, the complainant and her family alleged that the way Varma was treated when he turned up to record his statement at the police station underlines that police do not want a fair investigation in case.

The initial complaint against Varma was lodged in the month of March. Months after, Varma turned up to record his statement before police on Friday.

Officials said Varma's statement was recorded at length and questions were posed on him based on charges leveled by the complainant. The police said Varma has been asked not to leave the country without prior intimation.

Complainant's husband on Saturday came out with the pictures of Narayan Sai, son of controversial godman Asaram, with Varma and reiterated that the two are no different in many terms.

The complainant and her husband alleged that they did not have any option left but to commit suicide in case they do not get justice. The complainant highlighted how her family is being troubled and alleged police have directed her 90-year-old father-in-law to appear before investigating official.

Meanwhile, Varma is learnt to have told the police that the complainant and her husband wanted to blackmail him and rape charges against him are untrue.

Police have meanwhile said that they would register a case only if the leveled charges are substantiated by proofs and added they are yet to come across any such fact in the investigations done so far.

Dec 17, 2013

ICSA update on Castlewood Lawsuits

December 17, 2013

Two of the four lawsuits filed against the Castlewood Treatment Center, a Ballwin, Missouri eating-disorder clinic accused of implanting patients with false memories of ritualistic abuse have now been resolved out of court. All four of the former Castlewood patients in the suits claimed they were given false memories of past abuse, Two of the patients claim the false memories involved satanic rituals. The Castlewood Treatment Center, which has denied its therapists created false memories or used hypnosis, released a statement confirming that two of the four cases had been resolved.!ICSA-update-on-Castlewood-Lawsuits/c1nni/56ba3e1a0cf2fb0f6ff6da12

Dec 6, 2013

Legion of Christ unveils measures to respond to sex abuse by members


The Legion of Christ, a religious order of priests still dealing with the fallout from revelations of sexual abuse by its disgraced founder, announced Thursday that a recent investigation has uncovered "significant evidence of sexual abuse" by another Legion official who served as the order's novice master at its Cheshire, Conn., seminary.
At the same time, the order issued a summary of actions it has taken in addressing other cases of alleged sexual abuse by its priests, as well as a long letter from Fr. Sylvester Heereman, the order's acting general director, detailing the Legion's approach to dealing with the issue of sexual abuse.
The announcements come just ahead of an extraordinary general chapter at which the Legion will elect new leaders and approve a new constitution. The general chapter is to open in Rome Jan. 8 and is expected to run about a month.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Velasio De Paolis to govern the order as it and Regnum Christi, its lay branch, underwent reform and reorganization. The January general chapter is the culmination of that reformation processes.
Fr. William Izquierdo was accused of sexual abuse of a minor while serving as novice master, a position he held from 1982 to 1994. Fr. Luis Garza, territorial director of the Legion for North America, said he received the accusation in July 2012.
"In addition to immediately reporting to local authorities, the Legion commissioned Praesidium Inc., to provide a thorough, independent investigation" that concluded in August, Garza said. In a letter addressed to all Legionaries in North American, he said the investigation "revealed significant evidence of sexual abuse." The findings were analyzed in October by the Legion's North American Review Board.
Praesidium is a Texas-based firm that specializes in what it calls "abuse risk management." It is the company that the U.S. Conference of Major Superiors of Men recommends to its members needing assistance with matters of sex abuse.
The information volunteered about Izquierdo is evidence of a degree of transparency new to the Legion, which operated with great secrecy and for years defended its founder, Fr. Marciel Maciel Degollado, against an increasing chorus of accusations of sexual abuse by former seminarians and priests of the order.
Maciel, a favorite of the late Pope John Paul II, who celebrated the native of Mexico as exemplary of the priestly vocation and, on one occasion, as "an efficacious guide to youth," denied any wrongdoing. He had powerful friends in the Vatican and among the Curia who protected him from investigation and church juridical processes.
It was only at the end of John Paul's life and in the early months of Benedict XVI's tenure that a Vatican investigation gathered evidence confirming the extent of his abusive behavior. Maciel was disciplined in 2006 and died two years later.
Since then, the order has been in a kind of receivership and has been restructured under Vatican supervision.
In his letter, Garza said the Legion has received another allegation against the 85-year-old Izquierdo, who has been in poor health and was "diagnosed with an advanced state of dementia." Izquierdo has not exercised ministry since 2008, according to Garza, and he "is and was unable to respond to questions about the allegations." Garza said the second allegation is under investigation and that the accused priest is being moved to an assisted living facility.
"Although he could not participate in the investigation," Garza wrote, "after reviewing the information, we have no reason to doubt that sexual abuse with a minor actually occurred. We have also informed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."
The summary of actions taken states that 35 Legion priests have been accused of sexual abuse of minors. Of those, 14 have been acquitted as having engaged in "imprudent behavior" or because the accusations were unfounded; nine have been found guilty, including Maciel; two have been "ineligible for canonical investigation when the allegation was presented"; and 10 are still under review. The two were ineligible because they had already left the priesthood, according to the order. The imprudent behavior was determined not to be of a criminal nature, the order said.
Of the nine who were found guilty, two were laicized and "seven had sanctions imposed on their life and ministry," according to Heereman.
Six Legion superiors, including Maciel, were accused of sexually abusing adults under their authority, according to the summary. Of those, three were acquitted and "one freely accepted restrictions on ministry as a precaution"; and three, including Maciel, were found guilty.
The release notes that the numbers mean less than 1 percent of the 1,133 priests ordained in the history of the congregation have been found guilty of sexual abuse.
In his letter, Heereman said the announcement about Izquierdo "confronts us with the painful and horrifying reality of sexual abuse of minors by members of our congregation."
In a section on understanding "the seriousness of sexual abuse and the suffering of victims," he thanks "those who have broken the silence that usually surrounds sexual abuse because of the shame and suffering that accompany it. Their voices have prompted us to seek the truth about what happened in order to help the victims and to renew our determination to prevent this from happening in the future."
The letter also notes that "many of us in the Legion maintained the founders innocence," a view that changed, he said, as "undeniable evidence of aspects of his hidden life began to come to light."
In January 2011, a pontifical delegate assigned to oversee restructuring of the Legion, established an Outreach Commission to deal with Maciel's victims if they wished to contact the order. Of those who did contact the commission, proposals were developed for "how the Legion could help them overcome their wounds and face the difficulties of their present life."
All of the cases have been closed, Heereman said, and a "conclusive report" will be submitted to the general chapter of the order which will open next month.

[Tom Roberts is NCR editor at large. His email address is]

The Death Dealer

Matt Stroud
December 4, 2013

‘Secret' guru James Arthur Ray led three people to their deaths... and now he's at it again
When James Arthur Ray lifted the heavy tarp door and beckoned his devotees into a wood-frame dome, they obeyed. Tall and confident, Ray watched them enter one by one, more than 50 of them. Stooping under the low ceiling, they crowded into the dark, windowless space and sat in two tight rings around a pit filled with heated stones.
Many had spent more than $10,000 to be there, in what Ray called his “sweat lodge.” It culminated five days with the self-proclaimed “catalyst for personal transformation” at Angel Valley Spiritual Retreat, a ranch near Sedona, Arizona. During his “Spiritual Warrior” program, he’d asked participants to shave their heads, spend 36 hours in the desert meditating without food or water, and play the “Samurai Game,” in which a white-robed Ray, playing “God,” declared people dead, forcing them to remain motionless on the ground.
Before they entered the dome, he warned them his final test was a symbolic death. "You are not going to die. You might think you are, but you are not going to die," he said, according to several attendees. Around 2:30PM on October 8th, 2009, he lowered the tarp, closing off the only source of light and oxygen. The ceremony began.

Russian Orthodox Church Urges Inquiry Into Religious Cult

RIA Novosti
December 2, 2013
A spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church called for an inquiry Monday into the activities of a Russian sect that he says “imitates Orthodoxy.”
The unregistered Kuzya-the-God religious group, which experts say bears the hallmarks of a totalitarian sect, gained notoriety last week after its members allegedly attacked a Russian TV crew that was investigating its activities. An adherent of the group reportedly sprayed an unknown chemical on the team of journalists, inflicting chemical burns on some of them and damaging video equipment.
“Law enforcement agencies and society in general should look most carefully into how legitimate this group’s actions are: whether fraud, deception and the use of force against followers have taken place, and as what [type of offense] the outrageous attack on the TV crew and the use of an unknown chemical substance against it should be qualified,” said Vsevolod Chaplin, who heads the Russian Orthodox Church’s press service.
According to the Pravoslavie i Mir religious news portal, the so-called Kuzya-the-God sect was founded by 36-year-old Andrei Popov, who calls himself Kuzya in honor of his late parrot. His followers believe that Kuzya is the reincarnation of both Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.
“The person who heads it has styled himself as a god on numerous occasions, and before that he posed as an Orthodox priest and even a bishop,” Chaplin said. “We have said many times that this person is not a priest of the canonical Orthodox Church, and so he should be regarded as an impostor by any Orthodox Christian.”
The Russian Orthodox Church launched a crackdown on the sect when it discovered that Kuzya-the-God followers, pretending to be Orthodox monks and priests, were collecting thousands of dollars in donations at Orthodox fairs.
In 2011, the Church established a commission to oversee the numerous religious fairs that have become increasingly popular in Russia. According to the commission, Kuzya-the-God followers were collecting millions of rubles in profit at fairs on a daily basis.

Yoga guru Bikram Choudhury 'raped students in cult-like training'

Raf Sanchez
Bikram Choudhury, the founder of the Bikram school of hot yoga, told a student "I need to spiritually enlighten you" as he raped her, according to one of a blizzard of lawsuits against him
December 5, 2013
The 67-year-old Indian yoga master is being sued by five different women in the California courts, alleging that he used his guru status to lure in victims and then "crush anyone who speaks against him".
Mr Choudhury's method of Bikram Yoga, practiced at 105F (41C) heat, has become wildly popular in Britain and the US and its celebrity devotees include Jennifer Aniston, Lady Gaga and David Beckham.
Yet court documents describe a cult-like atmosphere where the charismatic Mr Choudhury would tell young women training to be instructors they had been "touched by God" before forcing himself upon them.
He "used his status as a guru to identify and victimise the most vulnerable women from among his flock, grooming them, breaking down barriers, and ultimately assaulting them when they were at their most physically, emotionally, or financially vulnerable," according to court papers.
The lawsuits - which contains allegations of rape, sexual battery, fraud and false imprisonment - are also levelled against 25 unnamed members of Mr Choudhury's inner circle who allegedly knew of his behaviour "yet did nothing to prevent this from happening".
Mr Choudhury has previously denied the charges but neither he nor his staff responded to a request for comment.
The Calcutta native founded the Bikram Yoga system in the early 1970s and is practiced by millions across the world, generating a fortune that Mr Choudhury has turned towards Rolexes and Rolls Royces.
Among his fleet of cars is a Royal Daimler he said once belonged to the Howard Hughes, the reclusive millionaire, and includes a toilet in the back seat.
But his yoga empire is now under siege in the Los Angeles courts, where four former students and his ex-legal advisor are pursuing him.
One woman, named only as Jane Doe 2 in court documents, said she enrolled in a $13,000, nine-week instructor training course taught by Mr Choudhury, where he insisted students wear "tight, skimpy clothing" and banned them from having green clothes.
Students were allegedly taught that Bikram Yoga could "cure cancer" and "enable practitioners to live to be 100 years old" and that Mr Choudhury "is on the same level as Jesus Christ or the Buddha".
Mr Choudhury allegedly singled out Jane Doe 2 among his students, telling her: "You will be greater than Mother Teresa, but you have to follow me."
On the night of November 18, 2010, Ms Doe alleges that the guru invited her to come to his room to discuss a job offer at his headquarters.
Moments before raping her, Mr Choudhury said: "I need to spiritually enlighten you. In order to do that, we need to become one," according to court documents.
Larissa Anderson, another of the plaintiffs, claimed she "found herself drawn into a cult and made a victim of gender violence".
Ms Anderson claims that Mr Choudhury sexually assaulted her on Halloween, 2011, and "subsequently retaliated against...her business as a result of refusing his advances".
The Bikram Yoga school is tightly-controlled and has filed lawsuits against yoga studios that it believes are copying its methods.
Ms Anderson alleges that after she resisted him, Mr Choudhury refused to endorse her studio or allow it be listed as an official Bikram Yoga practice, causing damage to her business.
In June, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, Mr Choudhury's former legal advisor filed suit against him, saying he presided over "a hyper-sexualised, offensive and degrading environment for women".
She alleged he was ordered not to investigate claims that a student had been raped during one of the teacher-training courses.
During a separate investigation of alleged sexual assault by male trainers, Mr Choudhury allegedly told her "those boys didn't do nothing to that stupid girl".
Mr Choudhury released a statement in March in response to one of the first lawsuits, saying he was "disappointed by the false charges" but would not comment further.

How Chairman Mao of Brixton built his sect of 'slaves’

Patrick Sawer, Claire Duffin and Robert Mendick

The full story of 'Comrade Bala' and the women of the south London Maoist cult he held in his thrall can now be told
December 1, 2013
They were the brightest of girls with the brightest of futures. But for three decades, the women allegedly lived in the fearful, dark shadows.
They were, according to police, the victims of terrible psychological and physical abuse; effectively kept as slaves and held against their will as members of an extremist, political cult.
The Telegraph can now piece together how Aravindan Balakrishnan – a disciple of Chairman Mao, the late Chinese communist leader, and known as Comrade Bala to his devotees – ran a community so secret that nobody realised that three women, apparently free to come and go at will, were apparently shackled in all that time to their mercurial leader by “invisible handcuffs”.
Josephine Herivel, now aged 57, was one of those women. She was a brilliant young violinist, whose eminent father had been instrumental in breaking the Nazi’s Enigma wartime code at Bletchley Park.
But Miss Herivel became cut off from her family in the mid-1970s some time after arriving in London from her native Belfast, where her father was a lecturer at Queen’s University. By the time he died, two years ago, she had been left out of the family will while his obituaries made mention of just two daughters, not three.
Aishah Wahab, 69, also had a glittering career ahead. She had come to London from her native Malaysia as long ago as 1967 after winning a scholarship to study in London. She, too, apparently fell under Comrade Bala’s spell and rapidly lost touch with her family.
The third woman apparently rescued by police and anti-slavery charity workers is Rosie Davies. She is 30, half the age of the other two. It is not clear who her father is but she spent her life under the spell of the Maoist cult. Her mother, Sian Davies, had been educated first at Cheltenham Ladies College before obtaining a law degree. Sian was a postgraduate student at the LSE when she, too, first encountered Comrade Bala.
When Rosie was just 14, her mother died in mysterious circumstances, as the result of a fall from a second floor bathroom window on Christmas Eve 1996. She was living at one of the commune’s houses, owned by the local council, in Herne Hill, south London.
For seven months, Sian Davies lay in a coma at a London hospital. Yet when her family inquired as to her whereabouts, they were told Sian had gone travelling in to India but that she sent her love. When she died of her injuries, the authorities never bothered to inquire about her daughter, Rosie, left behind.
Comrade Bala appears to be the charismatic force that kept the commune together, long after the revolutionary fervour of the 1960s and 1970s had died away.
Now aged 73, he was arrested and subsequently bailed on suspicion of being involved in forced labour and slavery following the joint investigation by the Metropolitan Police and an anti-slavery group, Freedom Charity. Balakrishnan’s wife Chanda, 67, was also arrested and bailed.
Police had been called in after a tip-off to the charity. It is thought Miss Herivel had made the telephone call that was to trigger the ensuing furore.
Until two weeks ago, Balakrishnan had gone largely unnoticed for years. He had come to Britain in 1963 at the age of 23 on a British Council scholarship from Singapore and enrolled at the LSE, where Ralph Miliband – father of Ed Miliband, the Labour Party leader – and then darling of British socialism, was star lecturer.
The LSE was the place to be for the far left and Balakrishnan threw himself into the scene almost immediately, becoming involved in Communist protest groups, reacting to the 'oppressive’ governments back in south-east Asia.
Revolution was in the air and Balakrishnan was beating the Chairman Mao drum. Conferences would begin with a clenched fist salute to the Chinese revolutionary leader.
“Balakrishnan was charismatic and dominant,” recalled David Vipond, a communist at the time who met Balakrishnan at meetings, “There was money, they [the leadership] ate well. Balakrishnan did not see himself as being one of the 'plebs’. He saw himself as a big shot.”
From its foundation in 1968, Balakrishnan was a senior member in the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) and already was demonstrating “cultish” behaviour. Mr Vipond told The Telegraph: “We were made to feel as though we were not up to scratch. We only had three to four hours sleep a night, but if you missed a meeting, and said 'I’m knackered, I overslept’ it was because of your bourgeois, imperialist state of mind.
“That is how they kept people down, so you could not leave. They told you that you were following your self interest and letting down the people.”
In October 1971, Balakrishnan married his comrade in the struggle, Chanda Pattni, a 25-year-old Tanzanian history student of Indian origin whom he had met in London. The couple set up home first in north London before moving south of the river a year later.
They established up a bookshop in Brixton called The Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought. It was unmissable, even among the four far-left bookshops Brixton then boasted, with its windows covered in Chinese Communist flags and the inside with giant Mao posters, one of them 20ft high.
Comrade Bala and his followers would parade up and down with their Mao red books and Mao badges; even going to the market for food was a “political act”.
In 1974, Balakrishnan was expelled from the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) for breaching party discipline for “splittist activities” – In other words, Balakrishnan wanted to go his own way. In return, he published a leaflet through his Workers’ Institute labelling his old party “fascists”.
It may have been little wonder they split. By now, Balakrishnan was preaching to his hundred or so followers that the Chinese Liberation Army was going to invade the “capitalist imperialist West” and bring a peasants’ revolution.
The job of his followers was to get ready for it, and manning the bookshop was the main method of preparation. The forces of the West were everywhere. When a fire engine drove past a visitor to the bookshop was told it was evidence of “psychological warfare”. “The sirens weren’t even on,” a visitor, then a teenager but now in his mid-50s, told The Sunday Telegraph.
Sian Davies is thought to have come on the scene in 1973. She had a boyfriend at the time but – increasingly drawn into the world of the Maoist commune – she withdrew from both him and her family. Eventually, having graduated from LSE in 1975, there was virtually no contact at all.
Miss Wahab was already thought to be a member of the group by then. Last week, her sister, Kamar Mahtum, 73, saw her for the first time at a secret meeting arranged by police and charity workers. Mrs Mahtum, who had flown to London from Malaysia for the highly charged reunion, had not seen her sister since 1967. They kept in touch at first but within a few years all letters home had dried up. The revolutionary commune had led Miss Wahab to cut all ties.
Josephine Herivel – known as Josie – had, like the other two women, come to London to study but soon disappeared into Balakrishnan’s paranoid and delusional world, cut off from reality. She had won the last of her prizes for her musicianship in her native Belfast in 1974 but soon after broke off contact with her family.
When the Queen came to Brixton for her Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977, the route went past the bookshop; the crowds cheered outside, but the Maoists stayed inside, clutching their Red Books.
The same year, the Singaporean authorities claimed that Balakrishnan and others, many of them former Singaporean students he had associated with in London, were plotting to overthrow Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s leader. Balakrishnan was stripped of his citizenship, which means it will now be impossible to deport him there. It is not known if he has a passport for any other country.
During the 1970s, Balakrishnan and his wife had been arrested eight times for a variety of offences. He and his associates were also jailed. On one occasion in 1976, two “comrades”, a Malaysian engineering graduate and the other a Tube worker from Barbados, were sentenced to 12 months’ in Brixton jail for assaulting prison officers as they visited Balakrishnan in Brixton prison. Why he was there was not known, but their cause was not helped by their chants of “long live Chairman Mao” from the dock.
A raid in 1978 was a turning point however. The bookshop was shut down; authorities had had enough. The group disintegrated, several of them deported.
“I did wonder what had happened to them when they suddenly disappeared at the end of the 70s,” recalled Paul Flewers, 58, a member at the time of a rival Left-wing grouping. “I suspect that after the police raided the bookshop several of them were deported as illegal aliens and Balakrishnan decided they had to go undercover.”
Mr Flewers added: "The rest of the left treated them as a joke. We'd come across them handing out Mao leaflet in Brixton town centre and have a good laugh because they were so insane - they were politically certifiable, talking about peasant revolution in a country like Britain."
While others may have left, the three women stuck with Balakrishnan. The Telegraph has established this because in September 1978 Miss Herivel, Miss Wahab and Miss Davies – and three other women – went on trial at Inner London Crown Court accused of obstructing and assaulting the police.
They each faced 13 charges and all were found guilty but given conditional discharges, except Miss Davies, whose 14 days in prison on remand cancelled out her jail sentence.
The end of the court case marked a change in tone. Comrade Bala and his followers largely disappeared into the shadows, popping up to publish a fresh defence of Mao in 1984, just as China’s leaders turned towards capitalism.
Rose Davies had been born a year earlier but it was to be a strange childhood in a “commune” made up of her mother, Balakrishnan, who may or may not be her father, his wife, and the two other women.
Despite her birth being registered officially, she was, it appears, never sent to school, and even as the group moved from house to house nobody seemed to ask why she was not being educated.
For the next 13 years or so, little is known about the group. There are reports a concerned neighbour contacted Lambeth council over the teenage girl who had never gone to school. Then, Balakrishnan’s world exploded again when Miss Davies fell out of an upstairs bathroom window at the council-owned house where the collective was living, suffering a broken neck. She was 44 at the time.
Seven months later she died at King’s College Hospital, in Lambeth, with her family told by Balakrishnan or his followers that she was “travelling in India” and sent her love.
At the inquest into her death, Selena Lynch, the coroner for Southwark, strongly criticised the remaining members of the collective, saying that she could not understand how Miss Davies had come to fall out of the window.
She said: “I wanted to call everyone in the house as we had a mystery, there’s no other way of describing it. I still find it hard to know how she fell out of the window, indeed what was she doing opening the window at that cold time of year.”
At the hearing, the other members of the group who gave evidence all claimed that Miss Davies had fallen while taking a bath and claimed she had pleaded with them not to tell her family about the accident in order not to upset them.
Television footage of Balakrishnan and the women taken during an ITN news documentary on Miss Davies’s death give us the only images of the group.
For the next 14 years, they disappeared again until the extraordinary events sparked by Miss Herivel’s plaintive cry for help.
But even now it’s not clear just what’s gone on. Nor what even the crime, or crimes, might be.
Miss Wahab’s sister has been able to give the world only the merest glimpse of life behind closed doors, most latterly at 1C Peckford Place in Brixton, the commune’s most recent address.
After her meeting with her sister, Mrs Mahtum told The Telegraph that her sister appeared in good spirits. They spoke in English rather than Malay and Miss Wahab did not discuss the conditions in which she and the other rescued women had been living, nor their alleged captors. “When I asked her about what had gone on she just clammed up,” said Mrs Mahtum, “The only thing she wanted me to perceive is that she is happy. She told me: 'I have got friends here, I work here. I do important work here’, but she could not reveal what she did.
“Each time she said something that made me smile she would say: 'Oh, I love your smile. Don’t frown, laugh, smile.”
Mrs Mahtum said her instinct had been to reach out and help her little sister, but Miss Wahab insisted she had never been lonely in London and had people who looked out for her. “Aishah said, 'I’ve got enough’, 'my friends feed me’, 'my friends love me, I love them, they help me out’.”
Mrs Mahtum added: “When she said that I felt that she was trying to tell me … that even without us, she can survive, as she has been for the last 40 years. We’re nothing that important. I felt a lot of disappointment.”
The other two women will presumably be having meetings with their families too. What they tell them and police will have a bearing, it is clear, on what course the police investigation now takes. Comrade Bala held the women under his thrall for three decades and more. It was a spell only broken – after many missed opportunities – by the intervention of the authorities he hated.

Dec 5, 2013

Kabbalah Centre sued for fraud, misuse of funds by former followers

December 5, 2013
Los Angeles -- The Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Centre is being sued for over $1 million by former followers in two lawsuits alleging fraud and misuse of funds.

Both suits were filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Nov. 27 and claim that the Centre pressured the plaintiffs “to give money until it hurts,” in order to receive “the light” from its leaders, Karen Berg and her adult sons Yehuda and Michael.

Carolyn Cohen, a San Diego real estate broker, said that she and one of her companies lost some $810,000 to the Centre, which, she claimed, “engages in a pattern and practice of raising funds … for the purpose of enriching itself.”

San Diego business owners Randi and Charles Wax, the other plaintiffs, alleged losses of $326,000.

In both cases, the plaintiffs said they were told that the donations were earmarked for a new Kabbalah Centre building in San Diego and for a children’s charity.

But, they said, the new center was never built and the charity abruptly ceased operation.

Neither the Berg family not their lawyer responded to requests for comments, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The late Rabbi Phillip Berg established the initial Kabbalah facility in Jerusalem and the first American operation in New York in 1965. Since 1984, the Centre’s worldwide operations, with 50 branches, have been headquartered in Los Angeles.

Over the past years, the Centre has been the target, as well as the originator, of numerous lawsuits in the United States and Britain. In 2010, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service launched a tax evasion investigation, but the outcome is still pending.

Traditional rabbinical authorities repeatedly have denounced the Centre’s teachings and methods as a perversion of the Kabbalah’s profound mysticism. However, the Berg family has received worldwide publicity by attracting such Hollywood followers as Madonna, Britney Spears, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.

Dec 4, 2013

Lawsuits target LA Kabbalah Centre

The Associated Press
December 4, 2013

Los Angeles -- Former supporters of the Kabbalah Centre have sued the Los Angeles-based spiritual organization, claiming more than $1 million in contributions was used fraudulently.

The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that two lawsuits filed last week claim the center, which attracted Madonna and other celebrities, raised money to enrich itself instead of using the funds to build a new facility in San Diego and for a children's charity.

The lawsuits say the center was never built and the charity abruptly stopped operation. More than $40 million in damages are being sought from the center and its leaders.
After a boom in popularity due in part with its association with celebrities, the center in recent years has been dogged by controversy. A federal tax-evasion investigation was launched but the current status of the probe isn't known.

Nov 25, 2013

This man could have been a terrorist; instead he rehabilitates them

West Australian Today
November 18, 2013

Noor Huda Ismail's roommate at boarding school went on to play a vital role in the 2002 Bali bombings- and had things been slightly different for Mr Ismail, he too could have been a terrorist.
The difference between him and his friend who goes by the name Mubarok, was that he had a different frame of reference and experiences according to Mr Ismail who will be in Perth this week to speak at a conference on extremism.
Fadlullah Hasan who is known by most as Mubarok is now serving a life sentence for helping transport explosives to Bali which were later used in the bombings at the Sari Club and Paddy's Bar where 202 people, including 88 Australians, died.
Mr Ismail now works with terrorists to reincorporate them into society as productive members of their communities.
He is set to talk about his work at Curtin University's Countering Violent Extremism Symposium 2013 which will be held on November 21 and 22.

Mr Ismail said the thought that he could have taken a path to extremism was "very scary." "I think if I didn't have enough critical thinking... I could've gone and fought in Afghanistan." 

While the schools he attended as a primary and secondary student are now known for harbouring radical views, he said he was not aware of this at the time and his parents did not realise. 

"You cannot tell from looking at it from the outside," Mr Ismail said.

After graduation, Mubarok went to Pakistan for further education, an opportunity Mr Ismail also almost took up.

Instead, Mr Ismail remained in Indonesia to study and Mubarok's further education in Pakistan ended up taking him down the a path that involved military training.

Mr Ismail went on to work as a journalist and while working in this field covered the 2002 Bali bombings.

"Working as a journalist [covering the Bali bombing] I saw lots of dead people," he said.

"I thought 'what type of person has the ability to do this?'

"Two months later I saw it was my roommate from school."
Mr Ismail described this as "a turning point" in his life. He said it was that revelation that motivated him to travel the world learning about what drives
terrorism in different countries.

Mr Ismail said it was about a person's experiences and what they had been exposed to. "That's what I love about my mum, she encouraged me to ask questions and don't take it for granted," he said.

"Part of the reason people become extremists is because of their narrow mindedness, they do not have critical thinking skills, they take for granted what teachers say is true, what is written in books, without questioning anything. 

"My friend, he was very narrow minded, while I was exposed to a more secular way of thinking."

Mr Ismail said not everyone understood what he was doing by working with former terrorists. 

"Some people think I'm trying to revive their network," he said.

Mr Ismail said the program he has put together as part of his work, which has so far seen 10 former terrorists graduate from it, required compassion.
"You have to win their heart and their trust," he said.

"I visit them in jail and talk to them to understand what they did and why, but it is important to note that understanding is different from supporting.

"After you win their heart, you give them a skill."

Those involved have spent time working in the hospitality industry. 

"Then you work on ideology, the work in the cafe helps question that," Mr Ismail said.

"I want to change their ideology through introducing them with different types of people from different backgrounds.
"You have to negotiate and serve in the restaurant, it's not just handing out food, you have to talk with them."
He said in many cases, those he worked with had never interacted with people from different backgrounds before spending time working in hospitality.
Mr Ismail said once the participants in his program began progressing they were invited to bring their friends along who also then can benefit from similar types of exposure.
He said people needed to realise where people with extreme views were coming from in order to counter them.
"We need to have a broader understanding, rather than just- this is a lunatic guy blowing things up, I've never met a mentally ill terrorist, they are not necessarily insane."
Mr Ismail is the founding director of the Institute for International Peace Building, a Jakarta-based think tank focusing on regional conflict and security.
He will speak at CVE 2013, which is Australia's first national and international dialogue on countering violent extremism. 

Nov 23, 2013

Yoido Full Gospel Church elders make explosive allegations of massive corruption

Senior pastor David Yonggi Cho accused of siphoning off millions in church funds; his camp denies the allegations
Nov. 15, 2013

The Hankyoreh
By Cho Yeon-hyun, religion correspondent

30 elders from Yoido Full Gospel Church, the world’s largest megachurch, held a press conference at the Korea Ecumenical Building in Seoul’s Jongno district on Nov. 14 to allege that senior pastor David Yonggi Cho and his family funneled off hundreds of billions of won from church donations.

The sheer scale of the amounts alleged by the elders to have been misappropriated is beyond the imagination. The elders made public a report from an investigation into three alleged improprieties by Cho made by a special investigation committee and ethics committee formed within the church last year. This time around, the allegations came from members of a group called the Prayer Meeting for Correcting the Church, including elders Kim Dae-jin and Kim Seok-kyun.

First, they claim that Cho returned only 64.3 billion won (US$60.2 million) of the 163.3 billion won (US$152.9 million) he borrowed from the church while building the CCMM Building between 1992 and 1998, when he was chairman of the church‘s Mission Society. The remaining 99 billion won (US$92.7 million), they say, was never returned.

By the elders’ account, construction payments of 28.5 billion won (US$26.7 million) and 16.6 billion won (US$15.5 million) were made at the time to Next Media Corporation and Facility Management Korea, companies managed by Cho’s eldest son Hee-jun.

It is also being claimed that Cho’s third son Seung-jae’s International Club Management Group bought three floors of the building from the church for 29.5 billion won (US$27.6 million) and sold them back three years later for 37.2 billion won (US$34.8 million) - pocketing the difference of 7.7 billion won (US$7.2 million).

In addition to allegedly appropriating 34.2 billion won (US$32 million) in Kukmin Ilbo newspaper lifetime reader memberships from 50,000 people for stock investments, Cho Hee-jun was also accused by the elders of making off with a total of 240 billion won (US$224.7 million) in assets related to the church.

They also claimed that David Cho’s wife Kim Sung-hae, president of Hansei University, has yet to account for 10.5 billion won (US$9.8 million) paid by the church as support for Bethesda Christian University, an institution she runs in the US. The elders also view US real estate purchased by the university for around US$15 million as having been bought with church money.
In total, the elders are accusing the Chos of embezzling as much as US$500 million or more in church money.

Associates of David Yonggi Cho insisted he had “no connection with any direct exchanges of money.”

Kim Sung-hae’s camp said the details of the Bethesda Christian University situation would be brought to light by prosecutors, who are currently investigating, but added that the elders’ claims were “merely allegations, not facts, and not worth responding to each one.”

The most explosive part of the allegations is the sheer amount of money supposedly received by David Yonggi Cho. The elders claim he received a severance payment of 20 billion won (US$18.7 million) when he stepped down as head pastor in 2008 - and that even that was decided without their knowledge or any voting by major church decision-making bodies. They also said no information was available on the whereabouts of 12 billion won (US$11.2 million) a year paid between 2004 and 2008 - 60 billion won in total - for “special missionary expenses.”

The elders gave a yearly total of 100 billion to 120 billion won (US$93.6-112.3 million) in donations received by the church. This would mean the annual amount taken in by the headquarters dropped by almost half from about 200 billion won a year when Cho spun off the Jisungjun center in downtown Seoul around the time he handed over senior pastor duties to Lee Young-hoon in 2008. Nevertheless, it remains the largest amount received in donations by any religious body in South Korea.

The elders also claim that Cho continued controlling the church even after his “retirement” by making decisions as “governor” - to the point where his successor Lee had difficulty exercising his authority on appointments and finances.

One of the former elders at the press conference, Ha Sang-ok, previously admitted to taking part in giving 1.5 billion won (US$1.4 million) while collecting the book “Madame Butterfly in Paris” from a female vocalist in France named Jeong who anonymously wrote the account about an affair with Cho.

“A sect leader might violate the commandments and do as he wishes, but a pastor cannot do that,” Ha said. “Over the past 14 years, I have met with Rev. Cho many times to try to persuade him to repent and return to being a great pastor, but the corruption has continued. That‘s why I had no choice but to disclose it to the outside world.”

The elders also made public a statement allegedly made by Cho saying he would give Jeong 1.5 billion won in exchange for her making no future mention of their extramarital relationship, along with copies of receipts for the two transactions totaling 3 billion won.

The church’s public relations office said the claims were “a personal matter that the church has no comment on.”

Lee Won-gun, an elder who functions as Cho’s “chief of staff,” said Cho is “unconcerned with money, to the point where I’ve never once seen him talk about giving money or not giving money to somebody.”
“There will be a response from this side after looking at the elders’ claims,” Lee added.

Cho is currently on trial for alleged causing 15.7 billion won (US$14.7 million) in damages to the church by instructing it to buy 250,000 shares of his eldest son’s stocks at a rate four times market value.

During the press conference, a physical altercation occurred when a number of Cho’s supporters attempted to rush the platform at the press conference and accused the elders of “insulting” the pastor.

Nov 13, 2013

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi visits New Delhi to attend Vedic conference

Right from the time that he attracted the attention of such noteworthies as the Beatles and Mia Farrow, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has become the symhol of oriental mysticism and life-style to the awed Westerner. Recently, the yogi arrived with several thousand disciples from their headquarters at Seelisburg to attend a Vedic conference in New Delhi. 

INDIA TODAY reports on the event which caused quite a stir and drew many a curious eye.

S. Mitra
India Today
November 30, 2013

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: Skill in selling packaged spiritualism

It was a carnival, a Marwari wedding, a Kumbh Mela and a political campaign in the USA - all rolled into one. From the moment His Holiness the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi arrived at Palam Airport, New Delhi, on November 5 by an Air-India Boeing 747 - followed by his 3,470 disciples from all over the world - the religious capital of the 2.5 million-strong "transcendental meditation" (TM) enthusiasts shifted to Delhi from the international headquarters at Seelisburg in the cool shadow of the Swiss Alps.

The Express Building on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, the venue of the TM jamboree, was converted overnight from a newspaper office to something like the transit lounge of a busy international airport. Cymbals clanged, bells pealed, and Vedic hymns were chanted every morning and evening as the huge TM congregation sat cross-legged before the Maharishi in the large air-conditioned hall of the newly-constructed building.

The lecture session over, the crowd milled around in the spacious lobby where huge no-smoking signs were posted. At the gates, a tight security cordon kept oglers out. Grim-faced whites belonging to the Maharishi's praetorian guards waited at the gate of the guest enclosure, checking the identity of each person entering the sanctum sanctorum where the holy man lived. Under a shamiana erected nearby, gigantic pots boiled all day long to cook the vegetarian community meals.

The Guru in deep thought: Consciousness as a 'holistic projection of the activity of all the neurons and all the cells'

And, pacing up and down the corridor, was the figure of Ramnath Goenka, 71, the old patriarch of the Express empire, the host to the Maharishi's world conference on Vedic science, and the newest convert to the cult of transcendental meditation. The conference, which is being attended only by those who have gone through the Maharishi's "TM-Sidhi" programme, is said to be the first of its kind.

The TM-Sidhi programme is an advanced course for those who have mastered the TM techniques. The Maharishi has 14,000 TM-Sidhi experts among his 2.5 million TM-trained disciples. The Sidhi experts, or Siddhas (derived from the Sanskrit word siddhi, meaning "achievement") are all urbane, taciturn young men and women in their 30s who have austere habits and who claim to practise levitation during the TM session.

Says Goenka, who began his levitation lessons last fortnight under the Maharishi: "I see these 3,000 people flying in the air every morning and evening right here, in Express Building. I don't require any other proof, nor do I have any doubt that I too will be able to fly in a month or so." However, even repeated requests could not persuade Goenka to throw open the flying sessions to the press.

Build-up: The conference on Vedic Science, for which the delegates are spending I over Rs 10 crore-including price of air I tickets-is a unique combination of hard-selling and spiritualism. The ostensible aim of the conference is to discuss the philosophy of the Vedas in the light of the findings of modern science. It is accompanied by an amazing build-up of a personality cult around the Maharishi. Clad in a silk dhoti. his salt-and-pepper beard hugging his chest, the holy man steps out of his heavily guarded living room only twice a day. As he hurries down the corridor with its plush wall-to-wall carpets, the guards form a ring around him, and the hallway resounds with a choric incantation of "Om". His path is strewn with broken petals of marigold. While walking down, he showers on onlookers smiles which may be variously read 'as amused, contemptuous and blank. The smile breaks out into an infectious, schoolboyish giggle as he settles down for a bath in the open, with two aides scrubbing his back.

He begins his sessions seated on a raised pedestal and often in full glare of video cameras. He utters "Jai Gurudev" and the crowd cheers him in Sanskrit with a pronounced Yankee twang. Their greetings mean: "I bow down to him who breaths out the Veda and creates the universe from it, remaining uninvolved. And who is the cherished shrine of pilgrimage for all the streams of knowledge." 

Investment Blitz: On another plane, the conference is being used as a massive springboard for the Maharishi's globe-girdling empire (net worth: over Rs 100 crore) to launch a colossal investment blitz in India, putting to shade the achievements of so many other competing godmen. The immediate plan of the Maharishi, as Goenka admitted in a forthright interview, is to set up a "Vedic university" in Delhi at a mind-boggling cost of Rs 22 crore.

After overtures made to the private owners of a five-star hotel in New Delhi for outright purchase of the building drew a blank, the financial whiz-kids in the Maharishi outfit are now planning to acquire a plot of Delhi Development Authority land It will be fitted out with a residential complex for international students, a series of modern laboratories, computer facilities and, possibly, a landing strip for the half a dozen executive jets owned by the Maharishi European Research University (MERU) at Seelisburg.

The university will largely cater to the international crowd, and will even teach Ayurveda, the ancient medical science of India. "It'll be," as one of the Maharishi's aides says, "a synthesis of the Vedas and the computer, a unique mix of academic disciplines." Goenka echoes: "India is going to be put back on the map of world education after a few thousand years. The university will be respected just as Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard are respected."

The university is perhaps the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and the size of the actual investment planned in India may be five times more. The plan. about which the Maharishi's inner circle is tight-lipped, includes setting up TM centres in all state capitals, expanding the Maharishi Institute of Creative Intelligence at Rishikesh, and erecting a huge Vedic study centre on a recently acquired 150-acre plot of land at New Okhla industrial Development Area (NOIDA) in the trans-Jamuna belt. The Indian investment plans of the Maharishi work out as the single largest inward remittance ever made by any Indian earning abroad.

The Past: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, by far the biggest tycoon of the Karma-Cola circuit, comes from Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. In the best tradition of Indian godmen, he too tries to fudge the details of his early years, or purbashram, as the jargon goes. But various sources in Allahabad identify him as one J.N. Srivastava, the eldest son of a local schoolteacher, who had a none-too-distinguished career as a B.Sc student in a local college.

Those who knew him aver that he graduated sometime in the early '40s, and calculate his age as between 60 and 65. Peter Wur-burton, his suave, Cambridge-educated press secretary, affirms: "The Maharishi read physics in Allahabad University." However, the only mark of scientific training that the Maharishi seems to carry is his capacity to rattle off, in measured bursts, jargon of physical and biological sciences during his lecture sessions. Example: "Awareness does not produce entropy. It does not produce disorder," or "What consciousness is, is a holistic projection of the activity of all the neurons and all the cells." A scientific abracadabra, in short.

During the Second World War, probably in 1943, Srivastava (or, the Maharishi) gave up his studies and moved up to Jyoti Math, north of Rishikesh, where His Divinity Swami Brahmananda Saraswati Bhagwan Jagadguru Shankarcharya ruled the roost. Brahmananda was attracted to Srivastava even though he was a Kayastha, and not a Brahmin. He made him his secretary in 1950.

Srivastava's skill in managing large funds and in selling packaged spiritualism was evident from the day he took over as Brahmananda's secretary. Reportedly by his single-handed efforts, an aura was created around Brahmananda and the myth went round the country's spiritual grapevines that the swami could produce wads of currency notes from nowhere.

For the assembled crowds at Jyoti Math, the newly-appointed secretary would put a strict ban on all kinds of offerings, including cash. This only deepened the mystery of the currency notes. However, Brahmananda died in 1954, and the grapevines were again agog with reports of a large sum disappearing from Jyoti Math's coffers, the contents of which were not known.

Greener Pastures: Srivastava gave up the subsequent succession struggle at Jyoti Math largely because he, being a Kayastha, would not even be considered for appointment as Shankaracharya. The young science graduate from Allahabad surfaced back as late as 1957, this time in full regalia as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and as the founder of the Spiritual Regeneration Movement. The Madras show was a damp squib and it forced the Maharishi to seek a greener pasture, this time in California.

For the Maharishi, the West was not won easily. In 1959, he held the first international conference on his method of spiritual exercise, by then known as transcendental meditation, at Sequoia National Park, USA. He wove back into India a couple of years later, and went back to Europe in 1963. By that time four lads from Liverpool had hit it big as the 'Beatles' and had sung their way into the heart of the long-haired freaked-out Woodstock generation.

The Maharishi met the Beatles around 1964. Soon afterwards, together with Ravi Shankar, the sitar player, a unique packaging formula for music, orientalism and exotic life-style emerged in Europe. It swept the USA in the wake of the Woodstock Festival, to which the Maharishi lent his magnificent presence.

However, unlike Ravi Shankar, whose popularity faded away with the end of the Beatles era, the Maharishi did not have to look back after Woodstock. In fact, he changed his slot quickly and assumed leadership of the new worldwide fad for "cleanliness" as opposed to the culture of the junkies, the pot-addicts and the pushers.

Transcendental Meditation: The '70s opened new horizons for the Maharishi's "science of creative intelligence", with Stanford University in California introducing a course in it. The basic idea is simple: by forcing the mind to concentrate on a mantra, the inherent disorderliness gives way to a relaxed condition, a state of "alert restfulness".

The keyword of TM is concentration. The reduction in the levels of stress, as brought about by TM, can also be achieved through hypnosis. Says Dhirendra Nath Ganguly, who practises Pavlovian hypnotherapy in Calcutta: "Meditation may be just another way of bringing the mind to a state where it can receive suggestions."

However, the US Government, reeling under an unprecedented wave of drug abuses, saw its only ray of hope in TM. It was prescribed for the US Army soon, and many states recommended it for prisoners. In 1970, the scientific folklore around TM began mushrooming for the first time, with the famous US journal. Science, publishing a paper on it. Largely through the Maharishi's spell-binding marketing skill.

TM acquired a unique respectability. Brian Josephson the British Nobel Prize-winning physicist, was drawn into the fold. Various universities began accepting PhD. theses on TM, and a number of state governments in the USA made official proclamations supporting "the science of creative intelligence".

The TM community today has 2.5 million members, not to speak of the 18,000 trained teachers. In the USA, a TM client normally pays 200 dollar (Rs 1,600) for a course of seven sessions. There are 2,000 centres spread over 140 countries in which TM lessons are given. For the advanced course, or the TM-Sidhi programme, the fees are much higher. Says Goenka: "I am sure they charge something around 7,000 US dollars (Rs 56,000) for a month-long Sidhi course". The Maharishi's avowed universalism is more evident in spiritual matters than in temporal.

In the "World Government of Creative Intelligence", inaugurated by him in 1976, the list of executive administrators is dominated by the Srivastava clan. There are five Srivastavas, including a woman, Kirti Srivastava, directly involved in the running of the world-wide TM empire. Inside sources hint that the Srivastavas are really the Maharishi's four nephews and a niece.

"This is a remarkable coincidence." said a retired Supreme Court judge who had arbitrated in a number of temple disputes, "because spiritual, attainment is normally not known to be a family trait." However, repeated queries regarding the identity of the Srivastavas elicited only one reply from the Maharishi's camp: "He does not like to discuss his past life".

Incredible Claims: The Maharishi claims that his Sidhi programme is a spin-off from the writings of the Hindu philosopher, Patanjali, which claim that supernatural feats, such as flying in the air, are within the realm of possibility. "It's not our fault if modern science cannot explain the TM-Sidhi programme. On the other hand, it's a failure of modern science if it cannot explain the programme", he repeats in his lectures.

Some of the claims made recently in New Delhi by the Maharishi's outfit are mind-boggling. Says Wurburton: "We have noticed that whenever a TM-Sidhi programme is launched anywhere in the world, a peaceful effect is felt on the political scene. And even when the square root of one per cent of the total population of a country practises TM-Sidhi, it can still have a profound impact on the society."

The Maharishi's aides claim that within three months of practising TM-Sidhi in the tiny state of Rhode Island there was a 44 per cent drop in "all the negative indicators". Wurburton announces the Maharishi's "desire" to keep a TM-Sidhi programme going round the year in India, and hopes that it will bring down the negative indicators in India too, "including the rising prices and the trouble in Assam".

He claims with a straight face that within weeks of starting the programme in New Delhi, the Chinese Government announced its intention to solve the border problem with India across the table. "Is that not a clear sign that the programme's effect is being felt", he asks with a quizzical smile. Then he emphatically adds that it is only the TM-Sidhi programme that remote-controlled Mrs Gandhi's "positive action" of convening a session of the National Integration Council.

The present Indian operation of the Maharishi is a certain indicator that the headquarters of his international operations will shift to India from Seelisburg where meru is currently situated by the side of the picturesque Lucerne Lake. Such a shift, the spiritual bliss apart, would attract at least one lakh foreigners to India every year, resulting in annual foreign exchange earning of about Rs 10 crore.

The well-known Indians who are currently being drawn towards him include, apart from Goenka, V.R. Krishna Iyer, a retired judge of Supreme Court, and a member of the Union Cabinet whose name is a closely-guarded secret. Says Iyer: "Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is going to bring infinite good to the country" Om Shanii Om.