Doomsday cult retrial begins

Swiss conductor tried for alleged role in deaths

Assosicated Press and Canadian Press/October 1, 2006

Grenoble, France -- A Swiss orchestra conductor went on trial again yesterday for his alleged role in a doomsday cult that lost dozens of members in ritual deaths in France, Switzerland and Canada.

A French court acquitted Michel Tabachnik of "criminal association" in the case in 2001. Prosecutors appealed and, yesterday, a court in Grenoble reopened the proceedings. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Tabachnik is accused of contributing to the deaths of members of the Switzerland-based Order of the Solar Temple. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The criminal association charge carries a maximum 10-year prison term.

While the earlier trial attracted widespread attention, only six people were at yesterday's trial opening. The judge said several witnesses had ignored summonses for the current proceedings.

The Order of the Solar Temple lost 69 members in mass suicides in Switzerland, Canada and France between 1994 and 1995, according to the prosecutor's office. Five others died in a second incident in Canada in 1997.

In October 1994, the bodies of 48 Solar Temple members were found in a burned-out farmhouse and three chalets in Switzerland, while five others were found in a burned-out condominium in Morin Heights, Que., north of Montreal.

They included the cult's charismatic leader, Luc Jouret, Joseph Di Mambro, a Canadian as well as the former mayor of Richelieu, Que., a Quebec City journalist and a Hydro-Quebec vice-president.

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