World News

India raids "living Buddha" over alleged illegal funds

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Police raided the monastery of a “living Buddha” touted as a possible successor to the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama in a probe over possible illegal funds, officials said on Friday.

Karmapa Lama, the third highest ranking Lama, speaks during an interview with Reuters in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamsala March 2, 2009. REUTERS/Abhishek Madhukar

The action, nearly a day of searches ending on Friday, was the latest crackdown on corruption in high places.

Police said they came across a “big quantity of cash” in the raid on the monastery of the Karmapa Lama, who a decade ago fled Tibet for the north Indian town of Dharamsala.

“I cannot disclose that (the exact amount of money found) but there was Indian and as well as foreign currency,” senior police official Daljeet Singh Thakur told Reuters Television.

A federal government source said the investigation was focussing on whether money laundering was involved.

An aide to the Karmapa Lama was arrested by police. Monks at the monastery could not be reached for comment.

The Karmapa Lama lives in exile along with the Dalai Lama in Dharamala, the centre of the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile.

India has been hit by a series of corruption scandals in recent months and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has blocked parliament as it accused Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government of shielding the guilty.

Leading the list of cases is a charge that state coffers were poorer by $39 billion (£24.5 billion) due to corruption in the grant of telecoms licences. Police are also probing if organisers of the Commonweath Games in October took bribes to award contracts.

The Supreme Court has accused the government of doing too little to follow up cases of corruption and of unaccounted for “black money” held by Indian citizens in overseas tax havens.

Thursday’s police action came days after authorities searched homes of Bollywood actors for possible tax evasion. Earlier, federal police searched homes and offices of a former telecoms minister and organisers of the Commonweath Games.

“It (the searches) is a reaction. It is not because of any honest intentions of the government. It is being forced to act,” political commentator Amulya Ganguly said.

Reporting by C.J. Kuncheria; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Ron Popeski