Claims of sham marriages between followers of controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Rajneesh in northern NSW are being investigated by the federal Government.
Department of Immigration and Citizenship officers will visit the tourist town of Byron Bay to interview several members of the sect known as the sanyassins.
The Australian yesterday reported claims by Bangalow man David Honeycombe that foreign-born sanyassins had flouted immigration laws by marrying Australian sect members in arranged marriages to obtain permanent residency.
A substantial proportion of the 2000-strong sanyassin community living in Byron Shire are foreign-born.
All five directors of the Mullumbimby-based sanyassin company Melaleuca Properties were born overseas, as were three of the eight directors of the local Osho Mevlana Foundation.
Many leading sanyassins in the shire lived in a controversial community established by Bhagwan Rajneesh in the mid-1980s in the US town of Antelope.
The community disintegrated after many of its leaders were deported or jailed.
The Bhagwan, or Osho, was deported for immigration fraud to India, where he died in 1990.
A hallmark of the Antelope community was the arrangement of sham marriages. Mr Honeycombe said he had attended an arranged wedding in Byron Bay between a local and a foreign-born sanyassin, who had lived in Antelope.
He said the wedding guests had joked about how easy it was to migrate to Australia.
Mr Honeycombe said he had told a police officer in Byron Bay that he had information about sham marriages.
“The attitude of the police was that they weren’t the slightest bit interested,” he said. “They seemed to be more interested in not upsetting the locals.”
Byron Bay police chief Inspector Greg Jago said he was unaware of the allegations of arranged marriages.
“If Mr Honeycombe has any information, he should take it to the appropriate federal authorities,” Inspector Jago said.
Federal Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said that allegations of sham marriages were viewed “very seriously” by the Government.
“The department will undertake an immediate investigation to determine if there are any irregularities in the Byron Bay area,” the minister’s spokeswoman said. “Anyone with information should contact the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.”
In another development, Sanyassin leaders in Byron Bay have secretly recruited a workforce of locals for a South Pacific island health resort.