Karmapa questioned,denies links with Beijing

His treasurer arrested,secretary detained; Dharamsala premises combed.

Written by Varinder Bhatia | Dharamsala | Published: January 30, 2011 1:46 am

The 17th Karmapa,Ugyen Thinley Dorjee,was questioned by the Himachal Pradesh Police on Friday night about the huge recovery of unaccounted foreign and Indian currency from his monastery in Sidhbari here. According to sources,he denied any knowledge about the currency,stored in bags and trunks in his office at the Gyuto monastery,where he has been based since 2000.

The head of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism,the Karmapa reportedly told the police that his office was managed by treasurer Shakti Lama and secretary Gompo Tsering,who handled all such matters,and that he had no knowledge of how and from where the money came. Both are being questioned by the Himachal Police. While Shakti Lama has been arrested and remanded in police custody till February 5,Tsering has been detained.

Police continued their searches today at the monastery’s offices,from where so far Chinese currency amounting to 11 lakh Yuan has been recovered,apart from currencies of 24 other countries. It took the police around 26 hours to complete the counting of the currency,amounting to Rs 7.5 crore.

In a statement issued late this evening,the Karmapa denied any links with “any arm” of the Chinese government.

Explaining the huge cash,it said: “The cash in question… is offerings received for charitable purposes from local and international disciples from many different countries… Monasteries across the world receive offerings from devotees in various form,there is nothing surprising,new or irregular in this.”

About the Chinese currency,the statement says: “At this point,we can say that His Holiness Karmapa has a large following of Tibetans from Tibet,who make donations in Chinese currency.”

In reference to allegations of benami land deals,the statement says that the Karmapa has been seeking to build a monastery as a permanent residence,as he currently lives in temporary quarters. “This project is clearly subject to the Indian government’s approval. The Gyalwang Karmapa’s office has kept the relevant Indian government agencies fully informed of its recent plans to purchase suitable land. The potential site was evaluated and cleared by appropriate governmental offices. The negotiations to purchase the land are still in progress,had been reported to the Indian authorities,and are completely above board.”

The Dalai Lama,who was asked about the matter in Bangalore today,also gave a clean chit to the Karmapa. “There is no Chinese link. The money is received through offerings,but in the present case,the money should have been deposited in the bank,” he said.

Preliminary investigations indicate that the Karmapa’s trust has not filed any tax returns since 2009. Account books seized by the police show entries of around Rs 35 lakh.

Apart from the currency recovered from the monastery officers,the police seized around $5,600 in a five-hour search at Gompo Tsering’s residence. Police also seized his laptop. ASP (Una) KG Kapoor,who is heading the investigations,told The Indian Express that Tsering is suspected to have amassed property in Dehradun.

Raids were also conducted on the hotel and residence of businessman K P Bhardwaj in Dharamsala,and were continuing till late Saturday evening. The Karmapa trust was reportedly negotiating with him for land.

The searches of the monastery followed detention of two men,after routine checks on Republic Day led to the recovery of a sackful of currency amounting to Rs 1 crore from their vehicle at a check-point in Una. The vehicle,registered in Bhardwaj’s name,was coming from New Delhi and going to Dharmsala. The bank certificate they were carrying turned out to be fake and during checking of the currency,police found stamps of ICICI and HDFC banks’ branches in Majnu Ka Tilla,New Delhi,on the currency wads. The Delhi locality has a high concentration of Tibetans.

The detained men revealed during interrogation that the money was to be given to Shakti Lama for a land deal. Bhardwaj told the police that the Karmapa trust was buying land from him. Finding too many loopholes,the Himachal Police raided the Gyuto monastery and found the unaccounted foreign currency in Shakti Lama’s office.

Himachal laws debar outsiders from buying land in the state,and police have already seized documents relating to recent land deals in Dharamsala.

In his first comments on the matter,Himachal Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal urged the Centre to keep a close tab on the activities of the Karmapa,and to investigate the source of the foreign currency. “It is an issue related to the country’s internal security,” Dhumal said.

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