By JIM YARDLEYDEC. 8, 2011
NEW DELHI — The Indian police have filed criminal charges against one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most important figures in connection with more than $1 million in cash discovered this year at his headquarters in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The 17th Karmapa, as he is known, is facing charges of illegal possession of foreign currency, forgery and conspiracy, according to a police official in the state of Himachal Pradesh. This week, the police filed the charges in a local court, which must now decide whether to move forward with the case.
Karma Chungyalpa, an administrator for the Karmapa, said the Karmapa had not yet been formally notified of the charges.
“This is a surprise,” Mr. Chungyalpa said. “We were really not expecting this.”
The case seems certain to inflame passions among the vast Tibetan diaspora in northern India. In January, the police in Himachal Pradesh raided the Buddhist monastery where the Karmapa lives as a guest. The Karmapa is Tibetan Buddhism’s third most important figure and is regarded as a possible successor to the Dalai Lama.
In the raid in February, investigators discovered trunks of cash, totaling more than $1 million, including about $166,000 in Chinese currency. News of the raid swept through the Indian media and brought sensationalistic reports questioning whether the Karmapa was a Chinese spy.
But the Karmapa’s representatives said the money was from followers who had come to pay homage from around the world, including from Tibet, inside China. Aides admitted that their bookkeeping was sloppy but said the money was stored in trunks because Indian officials had not yet granted legal status to accept foreign donations.
Aides also said that the Karmapa, as a religious leader, was not involved in the processing of donations.
“His Holiness is really not involved in the mundane day-to-day affairs of the office,” Mr. Chungyalpa said.
The police also filed charges against three followers of the Karmapa. If convicted, the Karmapa could face up to two years in prison, according to The Associated Press.
The Karmapa, who is in his mid-20s, has always elicited suspicion among Indian security officials. He escaped from China in late 1999, fleeing through the icy Himalayas and reaching Dharamsala, the mountain redoubt in India that is now the capital of the Tibetan government in exile. Fellow Tibetans greeted him as a hero, but Indian intelligence officers have kept him under close watch, on suspicion that he might be a Chinese spy.
Most Tibetans have scoffed over any doubts about his loyalties. In February, after police raided the Karmapa’s headquarters, thousands of Tibetan monks held a peaceful protest.