Swami clear in Italy case

Ananda founder safe from arrest, supporters say

TheUnion.com/March 27, 2004
By Jamie Bate

Italian prosecutors have dropped arrest orders for the founder of the Ananda Church of Self-Realization, according to organization officials.

J. Donald Walters, known as Swami Kriyananda, was wanted by Italian law enforcement after a raid on Ananda's community in Assisi, Italy, on March 2. Nine people were arrested and later released as part of an investigation into, among other charges, alleged fraud, usury and labor law violations.

Kriyananda, 78, was in India at the time of the raid and was being sought for questioning by Italian officials. But on Friday, Ananda's lawyers announced that the arrest order had been abandoned by the Italian prosecutor.

"It's been dropped," said Jon Smallen, general manager of the 250-resident Ananda Village on the San Juan Ridge. "That's basically because this case is beginning to dissolve."

Ananda is a spiritual group that follows the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, the author of "Autobiography of a Yogi," who died in 1952. The organization is largely centered around the Ananda Village in Nevada County.

Smallen said the investigation was spurred by a disgruntled former member who had been encouraged by Ananda's detractors. Although a number of people were interviewed by Italian authorities, Smallen said no other charges were filed.

"Some people who attacked us in this country are the same people who are working" with the accuser in Italy, Smallen said.

Meanwhile, as part of the investigation, Italian authorities froze about 300,000 Euros in Ananda's bank accounts in the country. On Friday, the Italian government granted a request made by Ananda's lawyers to move a May 13 hearing to April 6 to determine if Ananda can access its money.

Kriyananda is a disciple of Indian guru Paramhansa Yogananda, who founded the Self-Realization Fellowship in the late 1920s. Kriyananda later founded the Ananda Church of Self-Realization and Ananda Village, the first of the church's several "world brotherhood colonies," in Nevada County 35 years ago. Ananda Village started with about 70 acres on the San Juan Ridge with less than 100 members. Today, about 250 people live at Ananda Village on about 900 acres. Residents and paying visitors practice Yogananda's techniques of meditation and Kriya Yoga.

In addition to the Nevada County property, Ananda has established centers and in Palo Alto; Sacramento; Seattle, Wash.; Portland, Ore.; Hopkinton, R.I.; Assisi, Italy and Delhi, India.

Smallen said Kriyananda will travel to Italy as soon as he recovers from a bout with pneumonia, the reason why Ananda's spiritual leader couldn't immediately answer the charges in that country.

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