APwa 12/15 1455 Rajneesh Conspiracy By BRIAN S. AKRE Associated Press Writer PORTLAND, Or
APwa 12/15 1455 Rajneesh Conspiracy
By BRIAN S. AKRE Associated Press Writer
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A lawyer for Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh
claims the federal government poisoned the Indian guru in 1985 as
part of a conspiracy to force him out of the United States.
Swami Prem Niren, who served as Rajneesh's chief attorney
during the rise and fall of the Rajneeshpuram commune in central
Oregon, said Monday that Rajneesh believes he was poisoned in
late 1985 while he was in an Oklahoma City jail.
Rajneesh, 56, recently has been ill, and doctors concluded his
symptoms were consistent with thallium poisoning, Niren said in a
telephone interview. However, he said tests found no trace of
the rare, poisonous element in Rajneesh.
Veet Mano, director of the Rajneesh Press Services in Los
Angeles, charged in a news release received Monday by The
Associated Press that "the United States government conspired to
murder Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh." Niren said, however, there was
no evidence of that.
"That is an unfortunate phrase," he said. "It's one of those
things. PR people say things different than lawyers do."
Rajneesh now lives in Poona, India, where his movement was
based before he moved to a remote, 64,000-acre Oregon ranch in
1981. He was deported in November 1985 after he pleaded guilty
to immigration fraud in a plea agreement with federal
Rajneesh has been suffering for the past two months from
nausea, fatigue, pain in his extremities and a lack of resistence
to infection, and was near death for a while, Niren said.
An Indian health official said recently that Rajneesh had
AIDS, but his disciples say a test proved the claim was false.
Rajneesh first experienced poisoning symptoms after a meal in
a jail in Oklahoma City, leading him to believe he was poisoned,
Niren said. Niren said he does not believe jailers in Oklahoma
City were responsible for the alleged poisoning. He speculated
the CIA was involved.
"Of course, years after the event I don't expect anyone in the
government or anywhere else to come forward and say, `I'm
responsible for it,"' Niren said.
Rajneesh, who was arrested in Charlotte, N.C., in October 1985
while allegedly trying to flee the United States, was held
overnight in Oklahoma City while being taken back to Oregon to
face criminal charges.
Niren, who said he is writing a book about his experiences
with the Rajneesh movement and the commune's legal battles, said
the government never had evidence linking Rajneesh to any crimes.
Niren said he recommended Rajneesh accept the plea bargain
that led to his deportation because of concerns over the guru's
"Otherwise the government persecution would continue and he
couldn't take it," he said. "They intended to persecute him until
he left or was broken."
Charles H. Turner, the U.S. attorney who led the prosecution
of Rajneesh and several of his lieutenents, dismissed Niren's
"It's a total and complete fiction and you have to consider
the source," Turner said. "The man has no credibility."
Turner noted that a federal judge determined that Rajneesh had
committed crimes, and the guru was represented by "three
extremely skilled lawyers," including Niren. If Niren had
recommended Rajneesh plead guilty to a crime he did not commit,
the attorney could be disbarred, Turner said.
Rajneesh also had access to any medical care he needed while
he was in jail, Turner added.
"I stood next the man in court and there wasn't anything wrong
with him at all," he said.
The commune disbanded after Rajneesh's departure and the
property remains for sale.
Rajneesh, a self-described "rich man's guru," teaches
meditation as a means to enlightenment.
Niren, also known as Philip J. Toelkes, said he traveled after
the commune broke up and has been practicing law in San
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