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Guru convicted for molestation in US goes missing

Last updated on: March 8, 2011 09:35 IST

Guru convicted for molestation in US goes missing

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A US court has issued an arrest warrant against an elderly Hindu religious leader, convicted of molesting two young girls, after he failed to appear before it on the day of his sentencing.

In a statement, Hays County Sheriff's office said it was on the lookout for Prakashanand Saraswati, known to his devotees as Shree Swamiji and is head of the 200-acre Hindu ashram in Texas, after the arrest warrant was issued against him.

Last week, the Texas court convicted in all of the 20 counts following charges by two women Shyama Rose, 30, and Vesla Tonnessen Kazimer, 27, alleging that Prakashanand tried to exploit them on numerous occasions over the course of several years, beginning when they were as young as 12.

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Image: Prakashanand Saraswati

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The two victims lived in the campus of the ashram along with their other family members.

After Prakashanand failed to appear before the court for more than an hour after the scheduled appointment yesterday, District Judge Charles Ramsay not only issued an arrest warrant against him, but also revoked his $1 million bond.

Laurie Bain, the Sheriff's office spokesperson said Prakashanand was believed to be in the company of a woman named Vishwambhari Devi and appealed to residents to contact the office on any information about his whereabouts.

Since the court has his passport, it is unlikely that he left the country.

"Prakashandand failed to appear in court at which time two felony warrants were issued and signed by Judge Ramsay for Failure to Appear. Deputies of Hays County are actively searching for Prakashandand in attempt to execute the warrants," Bain said.



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There was no immediate response to the several phone calls and the email sent to Aman Agrawal, spokesman of Barsana Dham, seeking their statement on the issue.

Spread over 200 acres of sprawling campus south of Austin, Barsana Dham, established by Prakashanand in 1990, is one of the largest Hindu temples in the United States.

Prakashanand also has several charity works in India.

"We have not located our client. We don't know the reason for his absence," Jeff Kearney, lead attorney for Prakashanand, was quoted as saying by the American Statesman newspaper.

The sentencing has been rescheduled for Tuesday.



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"Swamiji was very ill over the weekend," Rich Parsons, a spokesman for Barsana Dham, was quoted as saying. "We're continuing to try to find him," he added.

The charges by Rose and Kazimer against Prakashanand were first levied in April 2008 following which he was arrested for allegedly molesting these two women, who were young girls then between 1993 and 1996. He was later released on a $1 million bond.

A third woman Kate Tonnessen, 31, too made similar allegations recently.

The $1 million bond was reportedly posted by infomercial magnet Peter Spiegel, a devotee of Prakashanand.

Earlier, last week, defence attorney Jeff Kearney said that the charges against his client couldn't be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

"I really don't think you can do that in this case," Kearney told the jury according to Hans Free Press.

Kearney said that the prosecution wanted the jury to convict his client on the stories of three "untruthful women, with no other evidence to support their claims."



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