Swiss conductor back on trial Solar Temple deaths

Grenoble, France — A Swiss orchestra conductor went on trial again Tuesday for his alleged role in a doomsday cult that lost scores of members in ritual deaths in France, Switzerland and Canada.

A French court acquitted Michel Tabachnik of “criminal association” in the case in 2001. Prosecutors appealed and, on Tuesday, an appeals court in Grenoble reopened the proceedings. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Mr. Tabachnik is accused of contributing to the deaths of members of the Switzerland-based Order of the Solar Temple cult. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The criminal association charge carries a maximum 10-year prison term.

While the earlier trial attracted widespread attention, only a half-dozen people attended Tuesday’s trial opening. The judge said several witnesses had ignored summons for the current proceedings.

The Order of the Solar Temple lost 69 members in mass suicides in Switzerland, Canada and France between 1994 and 1995, according to the prosecutor’s office.

In 1994, the bodies of 48 Solar Temple members were found in a burned-out farmhouse and three chalets in Switzerland. The bodies of two cult members had been found a day earlier at a burned-out condominium north of Montreal, with three more bodies uncovered at the condo two days later.

In 1995, French police discovered the charred remains of 14 victims, including three children, in a forest clearing near Grenoble at the foot of the French Alps. The 14 bodies were arranged in a star formation. Two other bodies were found nearby.

Prosecutor Pierre-Marie Cuny accused Mr. Tabachnik of supporting the cult’s leader Joseph di Mambo, who died in the 1994 mass suicide.

Swiss authorities failed to establish any link between the cult and Mr. Tabachnik, but a French investigating magistrate decided there was enough evidence to put the conductor on trial.

Mr. Tabachnik, who studied under conductor Pierre Boulez and composer Iannis Xenakis, has led the Philharmonic Orchestra of Lorraine, France, and orchestras in Canada and in New York.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday October 25, 2006.
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