After a raid in France, a Romanian-Swedish guru was indicted on Friday in Paris for large-scale sexual violence within an international yoga movement accused of sectarian excesses.
• Read also: International yoga sect: arrest of the guru and 40 people in France
Unkempt appearance and big glasses, Gregorian Bivolaru, 71, is the central character of this “group with the contours of the mafia, pimping under supposedly philosophical trappings”, according to a source close to the matter.
Along with Mr. Bivolaru, very well known in Romania and founder in 1970 of the first yoga school in the then communist country, several other people were arrested suspected of being “important leaders” of this sect, which is said to have several hundred members. followers in France.
Founder of the Movement for Spiritual Integration towards the Absolute (Misa), renamed Atman during its expansion outside Romania, he was arrested Tuesday during a vast search in France. While in police custody, he denied his role as leader but claimed to be “endowed with extraordinary gifts” and the “victim of a political conspiracy,” a police source told AFP.
Suspected of rape, he presented himself as “a spiritual master”: after a so-called “consecration” stage, women “loved” him at his home, according to the police source who reported his remarks.
Friday evening, he was indicted for rape, abuse of weakness, kidnapping and human trafficking in an organized gang, AFP learned from a judicial source.
During a hearing at the Paris court, a judge decided to place him in pre-trial detention. “I am sorry about this decision,” his lawyer Anis Harabi reacted to AFP. “We will work on the file and establish his innocence.”
His group, behind the declared practice of tantra yoga, is accused of hiding a sect which practices sexual violence on a large scale, by “conditioning victims to accept sexual relations via mental manipulation techniques aimed at removing any notion of consent” , describes the judicial source interviewed by AFP.
The movement would have encouraged women “to accept sexual relations” with Gregorian Bivolaru and/or to “engage in paid pornographic practices in France and abroad”, according to a source close to the investigation.
Among those accused are also women. One of them, “who behaved like a boss” according to the police source, was arrested in a “women’s pavilion” in Villiers-sur-Marne, south of Paris. While in police custody, she designated six other “coordinators” of “ashrams” in the Paris region.
Six of the twenty women installed in this pavilion told investigators that they had arrived between September and November in France for “a yoga course” or “a course on feminism”. Two said they had a nude photo taken upon their arrival. They have not filed a complaint yet.
At this point, investigators have identified 56 female potential victims.
A woman presenting herself as a victim told AFP, on condition of anonymity, of having been subjected to sex trafficking “on several occasions” “from Great Britain to Paris”. “Many people consider this organization as a yoga school (…) without knowing that it is a dangerous sect.”
The raid, which mobilized 175 police officers, took place in particular in Paris and its suburbs, and in the south-east of France.
Reporting from 2022
The investigation arose from a report in July 2022 from the French agency for the fight against sectarian aberrations (Miviludes), after the testimonies of 12 former members of Misa. As early as 2008, Misa had been excluded “from the International Yoga Federation and the European Yoga Alliance for its commercial practices deemed illicit,” recalled the judicial source.
The movement has already been the subject of legal proceedings in Europe.
Its founder, prosecuted in his country on several occasions, fled and obtained political asylum in Sweden at the beginning of 2006 as well as a new name: Magnus Aurolsson.
Sentenced by default in Romania in 2013 to six years of imprisonment, he disappeared for a few years before being arrested in February 2016 in France, while he was on the run.
Handed over to the Romanian authorities, he disappeared again, before being found on Tuesday in France.
Misa published a press release on Thursday in Romanian to denounce “absurd accusations” against Gregorian Bivolaru, “target of media discredit campaigns since the 1990s”.