Police in France have broken up an ‘international tantric yoga cult’ after arresting the group’s self-styled ‘spiritual mentor’ and 40 others, on suspicion of people trafficking, rape, and kidnapping.
The operation happened on Tuesday, November 28, and involved 175 police officers. The arrests took place in the Paris region, as well as areas of southern France.
In total, 26 women - some of whom have claimed they were being held against their will - were freed as part of the operation. One source told AFP that the women had been “kept in deplorable conditions” that were both cramped and unhygienic.
“The aim of the [yoga] training courses was to get people to take part in sexual and/or physical activities…in conditions that made it possible at that stage to characterise the offence of trafficking in human beings,” said a judicial source.
Kidnapping alone risks a prison term of up to 30 years in France.
Une dizaine de femmes étaient régulièrement séquestrées en même temps, pendant des jours, dans plusieurs logements de la région parisienne, afin de rassasier les appétits sexuels de ce gourou roumain— RFI (@RFI) November 28, 2023
The group is known as the Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute (MISA), and sometimes ATMAN, Tara or Natha. It runs several supposed ‘yoga schools’, and describes itself as the “largest yoga school in Romania and in Europe”. The French police have said it has “several hundred” members.
On its website, the group claims to take “a traditional rigorous approach of the yoga system”, including tantra yoga "amorous energy control techniques”, and “erotic postures” to help participants “on the way to ecstasy”. The website also mentions “extraterrestrial civilizations”.
However, in 2008, the International Yoga Federation and the European Yoga Alliance said they could no longer accept the group as a member, due to alleged “illicit” practices.
The group’s leader is so-called ‘guru’ Gregorian Bivolaru, aged 71, the AFP has confirmed. As a citizen of both Romania and Sweden, Mr Bivolaru has previously attracted the attention of authorities in his native countries as well as France.
Mr Bivolaru himself was arrested in a house in Ivry-sur-Seine, near Paris, said newspaper Libération, which was the first to report the arrests.
Investigations into the allegations were first launched in July, after the human rights NGO la Ligue des droits de l'Homme said it had received statements from 12 former MISA members.
The case was handed to and coordinated by the Miviludes (Mission interministérielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les dérives sectaires, interministerial mission for the alerting and fighting against cults), and the OCRVP (Office central pour la répression des violences aux personnes, central office for the repression of violence towards people).
The reports came from several women who claimed they had been mentally manipulated into engaging in sexual relations with Mr Bivolaru, and "to agree to participate in fee-paying pornographic practices in France and abroad” to “pay for their stay”.
The victims claimed that Mr Bivolaru regularly brought women to his house for tantric yoga “sexual initiation”.