Yoga sect leader Gregorian Bivolaru and followers arrested in France

Bivolaru in orange jacket and masked police officer
Image caption,Gregorian Bivolaru was arrested in Romania in 2004 for having sex with a minor

French police have arrested a fugitive yoga sect leader called Gregorian Bivolaru and 40 of his followers.

A reported 175 officers carried out morning raids on different arms of the group, often called Misa or Atman.

Police also found 26 women being held in “deplorable conditions”, according to AFP news agency.

French prosecutors began investigating the group in July for alleged abuse, rape, human trafficking and kidnapping.

Its 71-year-old Romanian leader was arrested at a house in the Paris suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine, along with other sect leaders.

French prosecutors began investigating the sect during the summer on suspicion of rape, people trafficking and kidnapping. There are allegations of followers being forced to have sex and perform in pornography.

The raids were coordinated by France’s Central Office for the Repression of Violence against Persons (OCVRP), after complaints were made by victims who spoke of women being held against their will, according to judicial sources quoted by French media.

Bivolaru was convicted in Romania in absentia in 2013 for sex with a minor and he was extradited from France three years later. He fled Romania in 2017 when he was conditionally released.

He is also wanted in Finland on suspicion of human trafficking.

He founded Misa – the Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute – in Romania in the 1990s. It later became known as Atman as it spread beyond Romania promoting “erotic tantric yoga” and boasting schools in nearly 30 countries.

People who have left the group have said that Bivolaru, who refers to himself as a guru, forced them to have sex with each other and with him, and hand over large amounts of money.

In the past, Bivolaru has denied accusations of criminal activity and the website for the Atman International Federation for Yoga and Meditation calls some past allegations “fabricated facts”.

He published a book on tantric yoga and relationships in 2010 that describes him as a teenager achieving “a whole series of psycho-mental accomplishment that are generally considered paranormal” and says he started teaching yoga in 1978.

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