What is the case against the Karmapa?
Ogyen Trinley Dorje, 30, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa and head of the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, is accused in a case of alleged illegal purchase, in 2011, of 52 kanals of land by the Karma Garchen Trust, Sidhwari (Dharamshala), of which he is chairman. Under Section 118 of the HP Tenancy and Land Reforms Act, non-agriculturists and non-Himachalis cannot buy land in Himachal Pradesh without the government’s permission. The Trust allegedly struck the deal with Dharamshala businessman K P Bhardwaj, also accused in the case.
How did the deal come to light?
On January 26, 2011, the Una district police intercepted Bhardwaj’s Scorpio (HP36A 0444) during a routine check at the Mehatpur border with Punjab, and recovered Rs 1 crore in gunny bags stuffed under the seats. Two people, including the driver, were arrested and charged with cheating, forgery and criminal conspiracy. Police investigations revealed that the cash was being brought from Majnu Ka Tila in Delhi, allegedly to pay Bhardwaj for the Rs 5 crore deal. The cash allegedly belonged to the Karmapa’s Trust, and had been handed over to the couriers the previous day by Ragvay Chhosang, the Trust’s cashier, who had allegedly carried Rs 21 lakh himself.
What happened then?
The following day, the police searched the Gyuto Monastery at Sidhwari, the seat of the Karmapa, and recovered unaccounted foreign currency. Subsequently, evidence emerged to suggest that foreign currency would be ferried to Majnu Ka Tila and to be illegally converted into Indian rupees, and that the Rs 1 crore seized at Mehatpur too had been ‘converted’. One Rinjhin Wangmo allegedly handled the transactions.
Was the Karmapa personally involved?
The police interrogated him, both on the Trust’s land deal with Bhardwaj and on the foreign cash in his monastery. He denied any role or knowledge of transactions by Trust officials, and said the foreign money was part of offerings and donations received at the monastery. In the chargesheet filed in an Una court, the police named him as the 10th accused in the case and charged him with conspiracy — arguing that the seized cash was hawala money, the land transaction was illegal, and that as chairman of the Trust, he had been in the know.
How did the state government respond?
As several Tibetan leaders expressed unhappiness over the allegations against the Karmapa, the government used Section 321 of the CrPC (withdrawal from prosecution) to file an application before the Judicial Magistrate (Class I), Una, asking that proceedings be dropped because the evidence against the Karmapa was insufficient. The court accepted the plea on May 21, 2012. Trials of the other accused remain pending.
How did the Himachal Pradesh High Court come into picture?
Sikkim-based NGO Denzong Nang-Ten Sung-kyob Tsogpa, which is opposed to the Karmapa, challenged the legality of the state government’s plea, arguing that there was enough evidence to proceed against the chairman of the Trust involved in the land deal and illegal movement of cash. This week, High Court Justice Sureshwar Thakur set aside the Una court’s order and directed the government and state DGP to proceed against the Karmapa as per law. DGP Sanjay Kumar has said the police are studying the HC order. “The case is already in court, which had dropped charges against the Karmapa. The government will take a call as per the law and court orders,” he said.
How has the Karmapa’s Trust responded?
The was no immediate reaction. The Karmapa’s followers believe he can’t be prosecuted. The Trust may appeal against the HC order. The Enforcement Directorate, which had investigated the foreign currency case too had ultimately dropped proceedings.