Trinidad court grants temporary reprieve to Indian religious leader

By Paras Ramoutar


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Port-of-Spain : An Indian religious leader, charged with rape in Trinidad, got a temporary reprieve when a court here returned his Indian passport and allowed him to continue with his world tour.

A court here ruled that the passport of 85-year-old Swami Kripaliji Ram Maharaj be returned to him and he be allowed to leave on June 16 to continue his world tour.

Deputy chief magistrate Mark Wellington said Friday he would take "a big risk" and return Maharaj's passport, but denied a request by the state to increase the $8,000 to ensure his return here to continue his trial July 16.

His order came following a very emotional request by Prakash Ramadhar, one of Trinidad & Tobago's top criminal attorneys.

Swami Maharaj was charged with rape and indecent assault of a 22-year-old Guyanese woman following an alleged incident in a room at the home of a San Fernando businessman, where he was staying since his arrival here May 15.

In his plea, Ramadhar said that over $500,000 had been spent in Canada and Europe in anticipation of the Swami's visit.

Ramadhar told the court that Swami Maharaj was to conduct a 32-day prayer and meditation service in Canada later this month and thousands of people had booked their flights to attend the event. He also produced photos of the swami's temple in Austin, Texas and a hospital he built in India.

Ramadhar informed the court that because of the swami's deep religious commitment, he had a worldwide audience and appeared on two satellite television channels.

Swami Maharaj's arrest and subsequent appearance in court caused great consternation in the Hindu community, mostly people of Indian origin, in this Caribbean nation.

Indian religious missionaries have been coming to Trinidad and Tobago with greater frequencies in recent years.

There are around 520,000 Indian origin people in Trinidad & Tobago, most of them descendants of Indians who had come here in the 19th and early 20th centuries to work as indentured labour in sugarcane plantations.