DHARMSALA, India — Indian authorities have filed charges against Tibetan Buddhism’s third most important leader following an investigation into $1.35 million in cash discovered at his headquarters in northern India, police said Thursday.
The money was found last January during a police raid on the Karmapa’s monastery. It was in nearly two dozen currencies, and the Karmapa’s aides said it had been donated by followers from all over the world.
But the amount of cash, which included a large sum of Chinese yuan, concerned police, who said the sums were too large to be merely from donations.
The raid on the Gyuto Monastery was unprecedented and particularly surprising since the Karmapa, Ugyen Thinley Dorje, is revered by Tibetans and Buddhists. India has gone to great lengths to provide asylum to Buddhist leaders who have fled Tibet.
The Karmapa, 26, is seen as one of the Dalai Lama’s potential successors as the leader of Tibetan Buddhism.
On Wednesday, police filed charges against the Karmapa and three of his followers in a local court, said Sumedha Diwedi, a superintendent of police.
The court will soon examine the evidence and decide whether the Karmapa and his followers should be tried.
A spokesman for the Tibetan government-in-exile said he was sure no Indian laws had deliberately been broken.
“What resulted was due to negligence on part of the staff members,” Thupten Samphal said.
“It is also a case of ignorance of the Indian law. Now that the case is on, law should take its own course.”
The Karmapa’s office later said it had cooperated fully and provided the authorities with complete details and documents pertaining to the case.
“At no point of time His Holiness was ever called or examined by the investigating agency,” the statement from the office said. “His Holiness has no involvement, direct or indirect, in the financial administration of the office or trust.”
The statement said the next course of action would be decided after the court decided on the charge-sheet filed by police.
While the Karmapa was charged with conspiracy and knowledge of undeclared money, the three followers face the additional charges of cheating and forgery of documents. If convicted, the Karmapa faces up to two years in prison, and his followers up to 10 years.
Diwedi said police have also sought the permission of the federal government to prosecute the Karmapa and the followers for allegedly violating India’s foreign currency laws in collecting the donations.
The Karmapa left Tibet in 2000. Since then, he has been living at the monastery in Sidhbari, just outside Dharmsala, which has been the headquarters of the self-declared Tibetan government-in-exile since the Dalai Lama fled the Himalayan region in 1959.
China’s government reviles the Dalai Lama, accusing him of pushing for independence for Tibet and sowing trouble there. A boy named by the Dalai Lama in 1995 as the second-highest Tibetan spiritual leader, the Panchen Lama, disappeared shortly afterward, and China selected another boy.