Washington, March 8 (IANS) A US court has issued an arrest warrant for a Hindu guru who failed to show up for sentencing after being convicted of molesting two girls as they grew up on his Central Texas ashram.
On Friday evening, a Hays County jury convicted Prakashanand Saraswati of molesting two girls in the mid-1990s while they were growing up on the Barsana Dham ashram near Driftwood that he founded.
Released on a $1 million cash bond, the 82-year-old Prakashanand, known to his Hindu devotees as Shree Swamiji, failed to show up for the punishment phase of his trial, scheduled to begin Monday morning in San Marcos, Austin American-Statesman reported.
After waiting for an hour, District Judge Charles Ramsay ordered the guru’s bond revoked and a warrant issued for his arrest. He had already revoked Prakashanand’s US passport in October.
“We have not located our client; we don’t know the reason for his absence,” Jeff Kearney, Prakashanand’s Fort Worth-based lead attorney told the Statesman.
Prakashanand was found guilty of 20 counts of indecency with a child by sexual contact based on the accounts of Vesla Tonnessen Kazimer, 27, and Shyama Rose, 30, who testified that the guru kissed and fondled them when they lived at Barsana Dham as young girls. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The guru’s disappearance led to immediate speculation that he had fled the country, possibly using a passport from India, where he keeps a second home.
But “we have no information about an Indian passport”, Hays County District Attorney Sherri Tibbe said.
A sheriff’s department spokeswoman testified in court that the guru was last seen Saturday evening at a Driftwood home owned by one of his devotees; however, other reports said he did not disappear until Sunday evening.
Spokesmen for Barsana Dham said they had no idea where he was.
“I have no information,” said Aman Agrawal, an ashram member who has issued statements in the past.
“Swamiji was very ill over the weekend,” Rich Parsons, a hired spokesman for Barsana Dham was quoted as saying. “We’re continuing to try to find him.”