Police detain leader of Russia's largest sect

The Moscow News/October 31, 2008

Police in the Siberan city of Novosibirsk have detained Konstantin Rudnev, the leader of possibly the largest and oldest Russian sect, known as Ashram Shambala. Policemen said they had found compromising videos and illegal drugs in Rudnev's home, but experts say he can still avoid prosecution.

On October, 24 police were forced to break into a detached house on the outskirts of Novosibirsk where 41-year old Rudnev lived together with about 25 supporters. Many of these people came from former Soviet republics, such as Belarus and Uzbekistan and police claimed that they discovered se­veral people who had been considered missing for years.

In fact, the re­cent raid (not the first in the history of the Ashram Sham­bala movement) was prompted by the fact that a young girl went missing in early September in the town of Berdsk. The search for the girl led the investigators to the sect and prosecutors sanctioned the search in two homes. Policemen said that the searches lasted over 12 hours and that pornographic photos and videos were found on the site as well as propaganda books promoting the sect's teachings.

The missing girl was not found, but several dozens of passports were recovered and many of these be­longed to the people who are missing for many years.

However, all the people who were found in the home with Rudnev told police that they had arrived to Novosibirsk looking for work and knew nothing about any religious sects or ashrams.

This could be a major hindrance in the criminal case against the sect leader who has had conflicts with the authorities and official religious organizations for almost ten years.

Rudnev started his career as a sect leader in early 90s when he first worked as a yoga instructor, but soon expanded his teachings to broader spiritual spheres. Rudnev's book "Fool's Way" gained popularity among the new age public and he managed to gather a group of supporters and started touring the country with lectures and seminars that supposedly helped people to solve the problems in business and personal life. He also sold magical artifacts like "unsplittable coins" that attracted wealth. The seminars laid foundation to the movement which quickly became popular and raised suspicions of both law enforcers and the official church as the cult members signed away all their possessions to join it and their numbers were counted in thousands. Then, first Ashrams appeared, where the cult members lived and practiced ma­keshift tantric rituals, like what they themselves called "tantric sex."

In 1999 a criminal case was instigated against Rudnev under the article of "creating a religious group that practices violence." A group of experts appointed by the court ruled that Ashram Sham­bala was a totalitarian sect dangerous for the society. After this, Rudnev was put into a psychiatry clinic for compulsory treatment, but soon managed to escape.

He was detained again in Novo­sibirsk Region in 2004, but the new criminal case against him collapsed as the cult members refused to testify against their guru.

The same thing can happen again, police say. A representative of the regional police directorate for fighting organized crime told the RIA Novosti news agency that so far Rudnev remained invulnerable to prosecution. The agency's source said that all photos and videos would be sent for an expertise that might take as long as six months.

If convicted, Rudnev might face up to two years in prison.

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