Jan 2, 2017

Bikram Yoga founder stripped of empire after losing sexual harassment case

The Australian
The Times
January 2, 2017

The founder of a superheated form of yoga followed by celebrities such as Madonna, Beyonce and David Beckham has been stripped of his worldwide empire and ordered to hand over his fleet of luxury cars, it was reported yesterday.

Bikram Choudhury, 70, was said to have been told to surrender his business after losing a sexual harassment case in Los Angeles.

Choudhury gave his name to Bikram Yoga, which became an international phenomenon after he introduced the 40C workouts in California in the early 1970s. Last January he lost a case brought by the former head of his legal team, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden, who said that the yogi was a sexual predator who had preyed on his young female devotees. Ms Jafa-Bodden, 47, alleged that she had been wrongfully dismissed for investigating allegations against him of sexual harassment and assault.

She joined the Bikram empire in 2011 having studied at Oxford and worked in international litigation at a firm in the City of London. She was awarded $US6.4 million by Los Angeles superior court. The award was reduced to $US4.6 million in April, although with legal costs the total judgment in favour of Ms Jafa-Bodden is said to be nearly $US6.7 million. After the latest ruling Ms Jafa-Bodden is to receive the 700 franchised Bikram Yoga studios around the world and Choudhury’s fleet of 43 cars, which includes 13 Rolls-Royces, eight Bentleys and three Ferraris. She told the Mail on Sunday: “Bikram is no longer the boss of Bikram Yoga. I am. I’ve been to hell and back but the jury has spoken. Bikram has tried to conceal assets and has fled America but justice will be done.”

Letters have gone out to franchises telling them of the change and Ms Jafa-Bodden’s legal team has been trying to locate his property around the world, including a diamond-encrusted watch worth £1 million. Choudhury’s garage manager has been summoned to court to explain where the cars are and why they were removed from a vehicle compound in violation of court orders.

Ms Jafa-Bodden described last year how the yogi had tried to get her to cover up his sexual abuse. “He can be very charming when you first meet him but that didn’t last,” she said. “There were allegations of rape and assault. Perhaps the first complaint was a surprise but then I began to see a pattern. When I refused to cover up his alleged crimes, he became abusive, calling me a f***ing bitch.

“He would sit on a throne at the front of this vast room filled with trainees. There would be a girl stroking his hair, another massaging his back and another stroking him under orange towels that would be placed on his lap. It was disgusting but it was a daily occurrence. He is a cold, calculating predator.”

In October Choudhury gave an interview to HBO’s Real Sports in which he called the women accusing him of rape “trash” and said that “one drop of my sperm” was worth $US1 million. The yogi said he could cure “Parkinson’s disease, Aids, cancer”, and that 5,000 women a day - “the most beautiful, famous, rich women in the world” - wanted to sleep with him.

Choudhury’s lawyer, Mark Share, could not be reached for comment.

The allegations have yet to be investigated by the police.

The Times


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