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French police arrest a yoga guru accused of exploiting female followers

Participants perform yoga in front of the Eiffel Tower as part of the sport event 'La Parisienne', in Paris, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Participants perform yoga in front of the Eiffel Tower as part of the sport event 'La Parisienne', in Paris, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
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PARIS -

French authorities arrested the leader of a multinational tantric yoga organization Tuesday on suspicion of indoctrinating female followers for sexual exploitation.

The Romanian guru at the heart of the Atman Yoga Federation was detained during a massive morning police operation across the Paris region, according to a French judicial official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.

The French official identified the man as Gregorian B., whom French media identified as Gregorian Bivolaru, 71, an internationally known yoga teacher and author. The Atman federation, which is headquartered in England, runs yoga courses and yoga teacher trainings.

According to the French official, the investigation into Bivolaru and the yoga federation, which also is known as the Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute, began after reports of psychological manipulation and sexual exploitation within the organization. Former MISA members alerted authorities to the alleged abuses.

Bivolaru is being charged with human trafficking, organized kidnapping, rape, and organized abuse of weakness by members of a sect, according to French authorities.

International police agency Interpol also has issued a notice for Bivolaru's arrest on behalf of authorities in Finland, where he is wanted for alleged aggravated trafficking in human beings.

The Atman federation's website and other sites on Bivolaru allege that he is the victim of a wide-ranging plot to discredit him.

The raids in France involved 175 police officers and resulted in 40 other arrests across the French capital, Seine-et-Marne, Val-de-Marne, and the Alpes-Maritimes.

The operation targeted several locations used by the organization, where women were reportedly indoctrinated and coerced into sexual practices. The locations, described as "ashrams," served as housing for women selected by Bivolaru for initiation into tantric yoga practices, according to French authorities.

Bivolaru, who was convicted of raping a minor in his native Romania, founded MISA in 1990. The organization expanded internationally as the Atman Yoga Federation.

The French investigation found evidence that students were coerced into sexual activities that included participating in explicit video chats for monetary gain, according to the judicial official. These alleged activities, purportedly carried out under the pretense of tantric yoga teachings, formed a part of an intricate system of financial exploitation and control, the official said.

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Associated Press writer John Leicester contributed.

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This story was first published on November 28, 2023. It was updated on November 29, 2023 to correct some references to the the name of the Atman Yoga Federation.

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