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Cloud of suspicion hangs over Tibetan Karmapa

A cloud of suspicion hangs over the 17th Karmapa Ugyen Thinley Dorje, after he was questioned again by Indian investigating agencies over unaccounted money totaling over a million US dollars.

Devotees gathered in Dharamshala to support the 17th Karmapa, Ugyen Thinley Dorje

Devotees gathered in Dharamshala to support the 17th Karmapa

A string of Indian central government agencies attempt to get to the bottom of the recovery of unaccounted funds from 25 different countries in possession of 17th Karmapa Ugyen Thinley Dorje. Nonetheless many Tibetans are standing by their leader, the Karmapa. He is the third most important Tibetan spiritual leader, after the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. Buddhist monks and devotees, including foreigners, gathered in a show of support near Dharamshala for a candle light vigil.

Ever since police swooped down on the idyllic town in Himachal Pradesh, which is the center of the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile, the over 80,000 Tibetans in India have been troubled by the multi-agency probe.

The 25-year-old Karmapa's name is frequently raised in discussions of a successor to the 75-year-old Dalai Lama.

Support from the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama has spoken in favor of the Karmapa, saying the money was donated

The Dalai Lama has spoken in favor of the Karmapa, saying the money was donated

The Dalai Lama has come out openly in support of the Karmapa, who is the spiritual head of the Karma Kagyu School, one of the four sects of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama called the Karmapa a revered leader. He said the foreign currency recovered were donations he received from across the globe. "The Karmapa is one of the important lamas, spiritual leaders. And naturally people from different parts of the world, including many Chinese, even from mainland China, come to seek blessings from him. And as you know, they offer money."

The Karmapa had told the investigating agencies that he had received the money in donations from followers and that it was being used to purchase land for a monastery. Several of his principal aides have been questioned.

What baffled the authorities most was that 1.1 million Chinese yuan and over 600,000 US dollars were part of the seizure from the monastery. The presence of Chinese yuan brought to the fore the Karmapa's alleged links to China. Some are suspecting a plan of the Karmapa Lama to buy land and establish China-friendly institutions across the Himalayan region.

Mysterious monk

He had arrived mysteriously at the age of 14 from his monastery near Lhasa in January 2000. However, a Chinese official has denied all allegations that the Karmapa Lama may be an agent of Beijing.

India's Home Minister P. Chidambaram was evasive on the issue, saying, "the investigations are underway. I have been briefed but I am not prepared to draw any conclusions at this stage."

The Karmapa's official spokesperson in Dharamshala, Karma Topden, refuted the China angle: "As far as the Karmapa is concerned, I have already told you that he has nothing to do with China. We don’t need China’s endorsement of the Karmapa. We don’t need China’s anything."

Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram is not yet drawing conclusions

Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram is not yet drawing conclusions

The Karmapa's office under scrutiny

But despite the strong support for him, the Karmapa's office will have to answer some tough questions. The police is now looking to establish whether the Chinese currency came in small denominations from devotees or as a larger consignment that would make it even more difficult for the Karmapa to explain.

Five people have been arrested so far in the case. Possession of so much foreign currency could put the Karmapa, who is a refugee in India, and his aides at risk under the Foreign Exchange Maintenance Act (FEMA).

Author: Murali Krishnan (New Delhi)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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