Judge says Hindu temple must allow creditors onto property

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/September 17, 2009

A federal bankruptcy judge on Thursday ruled that the Hindu Temple of Georgia must allow creditors onto its property to inventory its assets and must not spend its income.

Attorneys for the temple, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this month to avoid foreclosure of its Norcross facility, had sought to block creditors from photographing or entering its holy places. They said any non-Hindus were barred from entering the temple while the priests are undergoing a 216-day period of spiritual cleansing.

However, Judge James E. Massey found a compromise: whoever is sent by creditors to photograph and inventory the rooms must be a Hindu.

The temple defaulted on a $2.3 million bank loan from Anderson Lake Properties and was facing foreclosure of its $5 million, nine-acre property on Brook Hollow Parkway in Norcross until it sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month.

Attorney Scott Riddle, who represents the temple in the bankruptcy case, said his client will comply with all of the judge's orders.

Riddle also said the temple may scuttle a $26 million federal lawsuit that it filed this month against the Gwinnett County Police Department and Detective Paul Cwalina. The lawsuit also targeted a handful of witnesses or alleged victims who cooperated with a criminal investigation into its swami, Annamalai Annamalai.

Annamalai, who goes by Dr. Commander Selvam, says he is a guru and religious healer. He was arrested on charges of practicing medicine without a license and theft in October. The charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence.

The lawsuit claims that the actions of police, witnesses and alleged victims were intended to harass the temple and wound up costing it millions of dollars.

The federal lawsuit was only the latest in a string of about 30 lawsuits the temple filed this year in Gwinnett, Cobb, and Fulton counties and in India. Most of the cases target former devotees, alleging either defamation or failure to pay fees for religious rituals.

Attorney Mark Scott represents the bulk of the defendants who were sued by the temple and says the allegations in the lawsuits are "generally baseless."

He said the lawsuits are retribution for going against the temple.

"Anybody who stands up to them or doesn't agree with them or doesn't do what Annamalai says ends up paying for it in a lawsuit or another way," Scott said.

Annamalai, who attended the hearing along with three Hindu priests clad in white, says he is the true victim.

"I was falsely put into a conspiracy by these people," Annamalai said. "They are trying to destroy the temple."

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