India police charge Tibetan Lama after currency seized

NEW DELHI Thu Dec 8, 2011 1:32am IST

NEW DELHI Dec 7 (Reuters) - Indian police filed charges on Wednesday against a Tibetan spiritual leader who fled China a decade ago and is tipped to take on the mantle of the Dalai Lama in the future, following the seizure of $1.4 million from his monastery in India.

However, the charges filed by police in a district court against 10 people including the Karmapa, who is revered by Tibetan Buddhists as the 17th reincarnation of a 900-year old spirit, related to a smaller amount of money.

This was seized from a car in January and was allegedly destined for a land transaction.

"Today the charge sheet has been put in court," police superintendent Sumedha Dwivedi told Reuters, adding that police planned to file further charges related to seized foreign currency. The court will decide whether to proceed to trial.

The 26-year-old Karmapa has fought off suggestions by India's media that he is a Chinese spy since police found the cash, including some Chinese yuan earlier this year.

His office denies wrongdoing and says the money comes from the thousands of often wealthy followers who have visited the Karmapa every year since he arrived in India.

The Karmapa is close to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, and both men strongly deny accusations he works for the Chinese. China has also rejected the accusations, which frequently emerge in the Indian media.

After the Dalai Lama, the Karmapa is the most eminent Lama to have fled Chinese rule of Tibet, which Communist forces occupied from 1950. Despite his escape across the Himalayas in 2000, the Karmapa remains recognised by Beijing as the 17th incarnation of his spiritual lineage.

He says he does not want a larger leadership role.

The Karmapa's lawyer Narender Pal Singh said he had not yet received any formal notice or copy of the charge sheet.

Police accuse the Karmapa of criminal conspiracy. A district court in the state of Himachal Pradesh where exiled Tibetans including the Dalai Lama are based will decide whether the charges have merit.

"As chairman of the trust he must have knowledge of everything that is going on, that is why he has been included in this," Dwivedi said.

The Karmapa's office has previously said he does not involve himself in the financial affairs of his religious order.

The Indian government was aware of the cash, his office says, but officials had not issued the correct paperwork to exchange it for rupees. (Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel and Abhishek Madhukar; editing by David Stamp)

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