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Nepalese spiritual leader 'Buddha Boy' convicted of sexual assault on minor

Ram Bahadur Bamjan, centre in white, believed by some to be the reincarnation of Buddha is surrounded by Buddhist monks in Nijgadh town, south of Katmandu, Nepal, Nov. 12, 2008. (AP Photo/Binod Joshi, File) Ram Bahadur Bamjan, centre in white, believed by some to be the reincarnation of Buddha is surrounded by Buddhist monks in Nijgadh town, south of Katmandu, Nepal, Nov. 12, 2008. (AP Photo/Binod Joshi, File)
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KATHMANDU, Nepal -

A court in southern Nepal convicted a controversial spiritual leader known as "Buddha Boy" on charges of sexually assaulting a minor.

Ram Bahadur Bamjan, who's believed by some to be the reincarnation of the founder of Buddhism, was arrested by police in January on charges of sexual assault and suspicion of involvement in the disappearance of at least four of followers from his camps.

A judge at the Sarlahi District Court on Monday found him guilty of sexually assaulting an underage girl, and said sentencing will be on July 1. The charges related to the disappearances of his followers are still pending trial.

He could face at least 12 years in jail, but can still appeal his conviction.

Bamjan is believed by many Nepalese to be the reincarnation of Siddhartha Gautama, who was born in southwestern Nepal some 2,600 years ago and became revered as the Buddha. Buddhist scholars have been skeptical of Bamjan's claims.

Bamjan was arrested from a house in a suburb of Kathmandu, the country's capital, after jumping two floors from a window in an attempt to flee.

Police said they seized Nepalese banknotes worth $227,000 and other foreign currencies amounting to US$23,000 at the time of the arrest.

Bamjan became famous in southern Nepal in 2005, when claimed to be able to meditate without moving for months while sitting beneath a tree with no food or water.

His popularity has declined amid accusations of sexual and physical assaults on his followers, but he still maintains camps in southern Nepal where thousands come to worship or live.

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