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Yoga sect allegedly exploited women to lure men like Domingo


BUENOS AIRES (AP) — An Argentina-based yoga group sexually exploited weak ladies it known as “geishas” to get cash and affect from rich and highly effective males around the globe, together with opera star Placido Domingo, who knew the group’s leaders for greater than 20 years, in keeping with interviews with former members and native authorities.

A sprawling investigation into the sect-like Buenos Aires Yoga Faculty, which operated for over 30 years in Argentina’s capital, has uncovered what authorities are calling a felony group concerned in intercourse trafficking, cash laundering, involuntary servitude, unlawful apply of drugs and different crimes. Nineteen members have been arrested within the investigation that reaches into the U.S., the place six extra suspects are sought.

Regardless of its title, the varsity didn’t supply yoga courses. Leaders are accused of preying on folks to hitch its ranks with guarantees of everlasting happiness after which exploiting them sexually and financially, in keeping with charging paperwork.

Former members of the varsity and officers investigating the case instructed The Related Press that the group compelled feminine members to work as “geishas” who have been assigned to make visitors really feel welcome on the college, with intercourse a part of the expectations. Influential or rich males have been matched up with members of the “Geishado VIP,” considered one of many teams of girls that have been compelled to have sexual encounters in trade for cash and affect that benefited sect leaders, in keeping with the charging paperwork. Among the ladies have been despatched to the US and Uruguay to have intercourse with males, a apply that amounted to slavery, authorities stated.

Former member Pablo Salum stated his mom and sister have been among the many ladies exploited in Argentina, and described orgies and sexual abuse of youngsters.

“Whenever you reached 11 or 12 years previous, the chief instructed you who you needed to have sexual relations with,” he stated, including that youthful kids have been made to observe sexual exercise. Salum says he was introduced into the group by his mom at age eight and left at 14. His accusations helped spark the present investigation.

Some members of the group have been diminished to “a state of affairs of slavery,” compelled to have sexual encounters and tasked with menial chores on the college like cleansing and cooking, in keeping with the investigative paperwork and a police official. Female and male “slaves” have been required to observe directions with out asking any questions, stated a former member named Carlos, who requested to be recognized solely by his first title as a result of he left the group a few years in the past and couldn’t affirm particulars from the present investigation.

Domingo discovered himself embroiled within the scandal after regulation enforcement officers carried out dozens of raids in Buenos Aires in August concentrating on the varsity. The famed tenor was “a client of prostitution” however isn’t accused of a criminal offense as a result of prostitution is authorized in Argentina, stated a regulation enforcement supply in Argentina who, like different police and judicial sources in Buenos Aires, spoke to the AP on situation of anonymity as a result of the investigation is ongoing.

Authorities launched wiretapped cellphone conversations from earlier this 12 months during which a person they recognized as Domingo seems to be arranging a sexual meetup at his resort in April in Buenos Aires with Susana Mendelievich, a live performance pianist who prosecutors say was a sect chief accountable for the “Geishado VIP.”

In one of many wiretaps, Mendelievich talks with one other sect chief about how the group had tried unsuccessfully for years to make use of its music connections to recruit Domingo into the group however it was value attempting once more whereas he was in Buenos Aires in April for a collection of concert events. In one other wiretap, Mendelievich asks sect chief Juan Percowicz if she will be able to take Domingo to “the museum,” the moniker used to discuss with the highest flooring of their 10-story constructing the place influential males had intercourse with group members. Mendelievich, 75, and Percowicz, 84, have been detained within the raids in August; each have been launched this week to accommodate arrest.

Domingo has publicly tried to distance himself from the group, which allegedly had a number of places of work in the US.

“After all, I’ve nothing to do with that,” Domingo, 81, stated final week in reference to the group’s allegedly unlawful actions. In feedback to a tv station in Mexico, the place he was performing, Domingo didn’t deny he was the person within the wiretapped recordings however stated he felt betrayed by musicians he had thought-about to be pals. “It makes me unhappy once you’ve had pals for a few years and also you understand you may have been used.”

Domingo has not responded to quite a few requests via his representatives for an interview or remark from the AP.

In 2019, numerous women told the AP they were sexually harassed by Domingo, thought-about one of many best opera singers of all time. Greater than 20 ladies got here ahead to accuse Domingo of inappropriate and sexually charged conduct that included groping and other unwanted touching, persistent late night time cellphone calls, stalking them in dressing rooms and pressuring them into sexual relationships by providing development within the opera world. A number of of the ladies stated he punished them professionally after they refused his advances.

The Spanish opera singer denied wrongdoing on the time, and he stated it pained him to assume he made ladies uncomfortable. Investigations by the American Guild of Musical Artists and the Los Angeles Opera, the place Domingo had served as basic director, discovered sexual harassment allegations towards him to be credible. The allegations and subsequent findings halted Domingo’s profession in the US, although he nonetheless performs in different components of the world.

The revelations out of Argentina have once more introduced undesirable consideration to the opera star.

The promoter of a live performance in neighboring Chile introduced final week {that a} Domingo live performance scheduled for Oct. 16 at an area within the capital, Santiago, was canceled, though the group stated it was as a result of logistical causes.

Authorities haven’t launched names of different highly effective males they are saying the group allegedly focused. However investigators say they’re poring over arduous drives and “packing containers and packing containers” of erotic pictures and videotapes seized within the raids. Judicial officers say that many sexual encounters organized by the group befell at its Buenos Aires college and have been videotaped.

Carlos instructed the AP that he noticed Domingo go to the varsity a number of occasions within the Nineteen Nineties, together with as soon as because the visitor of honor at a cocktail party inside the varsity. Carlos stated he was a waiter on the social gathering, held in Domingo’s honor, the place the singer made a beneficiant supply on the finish of the night to fly a number of of the group’s leaders with him to Europe on an upcoming journey.

“On the dinner Placido Domingo stated ‘let’s all go to Europe’,” stated Carlos, who left the group after 10 years in 1999. “He was inviting all of them, the entire desk, to Europe.”

At Domingo’s desk have been classical musicians who police say have been a part of the group’s management: Rubén D’Artagnan González, Verónica Iacono and Mendelievich amongst others, in keeping with Carlos who stated it was widespread information on the college that the three accompanied Domingo on his journey.

González, who died in 2018, served as concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1986 till 1996 and is accused of taking part in a key function within the group’s U.S. operations. Iacono was a New York-based soprano, who used the stage title “Loiacono,” and is the topic of a global arrest warrant. One other alleged chief named Mariano Krawczyk, was an oboist who goes by the creative title Mariano Krauz.

The extent of Domingo’s skilled or private ties to the musicians within the group usually are not recognized, and he has declined touch upon that. However Domingo has carried out with a number of of the individuals who’ve been arrested, together with at a 1996 live performance that featured the three he allegedly invited to Europe and Krawczyk.

Throughout that Buenos Aires live performance, Domingo and Iacono sang a portion of “Marked Playing cards” an opera that Iacono, Mendelievich, González and Krawczyk wrote collectively primarily based on a ebook by Percowicz, the founder and chief of the Buenos Aires Yoga Faculty.

Sexual encounters have been touted to members as a type of “therapeutic” and provided a path to scaling the seven ranges of the varsity’s strict hierarchy that had Percowicz on the high, in keeping with charging paperwork.

Former members interviewed by AP say Percowicz was generally known as “El Maestro.” Others ranked on the seventh stage have been Iacono, Krawczyk and Mendelievich, in keeping with prosecutors’ paperwork. A judicial supply says she has seen paperwork that present González was at a high stage of the group earlier than he died. Krawczyk was amongst these arrested.

To advance rapidly, members may additionally donate cash and signal over property. The group had revenues of round half 1,000,000 {dollars} monthly, in keeping with a judicial official.

Cult members included attorneys and accountants who suggested leaders on a fancy cash laundering community that included beginning companies and shopping for actual property in Argentina and the US, the investigative paperwork stated.

Members additionally allegedly offered medical therapies for a number of illnesses, together with AIDS and drug habit, that concerned “sleep cures,” which primarily meant giving folks medicine to assist them sleep for days at a time. Authorities say the pseudo medical therapies have been additionally completed in the US, the place the group’s clinic CMI Abasto, had subsidiaries.


Related Press Author Olga R. Rodriguez contributed from San Francisco.

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