Tibetan religious authorities supported abusive leader of Belgian Buddhist sect (OKC)

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Tibetan religious authorities supported abusive leader of Belgian Buddhist sect (OKC)

Tibetan religious authorities supported the abusive leader of the Belgian Buddhist sect OKC, known as Robert Spatz (a.k.a. ‘Lama Kunzang Dorje’).

Power and abuse

High-ranking Tibetan politicians and clerics (lamas) have openly supported Robert Spatz, the abusive teacher who led the Belgian Buddhist sect ‘Ogyen Kunzang Choling’ (OKC). It took the Belgian courts more than 20 years to convict Spatz for his abusive behaviour. Both the abuse and the clerical response fit a pattern seen in other large Buddhist abuse scandals.[1] [2]

The start of the OKC sect, and its leader

Robert Spatz, a TV repairman, decided to start a Buddhist centre in Belgium after allegedly studying with the Tibetan meditation master ‘Kangyur Rinpoche’, whom he met in India in 1972.[3] [4] [5] Later, he solidified his status by claiming that he was working under the spiritual authority of other prominent teachers.[6] His organisation branched out to include meditation centres, organic shops, and restaurants in multiple European countries.[7]

Hostage taking

The abusive atmosphere of OKC becomes palpable when one learns that Spatz forced his adult followers to leave their children behind in Spatz’s castle (Château-de-Soleils) in France, and later in Portugal.[8] According to the court, Spatz kept these children (60 in France, 25 in Portugal) as ‘hostages’.[9] Witnesses claim that the children were subjected to indoctrination, continuous worship, hours of daily prayer, and physical punishments like starvation and beatings.[10] [11] Multiple under-age girls were sexually abused.[12] [13]

Framing abuse as religious training

Spatz disguised all of his abuse as a form of religious training, says one of the witnesses. Spatz framed the sexual abuse as a ‘tantric ritual’ that could transform the energy of his victim into a healing force that would cure his chronic health problems.[14] The strenuous training in martial arts that he put the children through was a preparation for what he claimed was the upcoming end of the world.[15]

Financial exploitation

The parents worked day and night in Spatz’s centres, shops, and restaurants, and transferred most of their wealth to him. Spatz converted this fortune into assets like gold so that the wealth would be untraceable, according to a witness.[16] He used this to finance his hedonistic lifestyle, including yachts, cars, and villas throughout Europe.[17] This left the children scarred for life, with almost no education, and their parents without savings at retirement age. Many of those children are now in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, forced to build a life from scratch.[18]

The role of Tibetan authorities

One of the most peculiar parts of this story is how some of the highest authorities within Tibetan Buddhism facilitated Spatz’s fame and success, either knowingly or unknowingly. While their influence on Spatz dates back to the 1970s, the most obvious example of their support is a set of official declaration letters they signed in the 1990s stating that Spatz and his sect (OKC) were authentic. These declarations were promptly displayed in every OKC centre as a seal of approval.[19] Some of the survivors have posted them online for anyone to inspect.[20] The signers included the chairman of the Tibetan cabinet (the Kashag), two supreme heads of the Nyingma (Ancient) lineage, and the abbot of the renowned Shechen monastery.[21]

Were the lamas deceived?

Up until 2010, it was possible for the visiting lamas to be unaware of the abuse that was happening behind the scenes. Whenever a lama would visit, the children were fed and cleaned beforehand. They were trained to act normally, so that the lamas would not suspect anything. However, after 2010, OKC insiders started sharing their stories with several lamas.[22]

At the very least, the declaration signers could have checked Spatz and his centres more carefully before giving their seals of approval, because we now know that he was in fact a criminal. Even after Spatz had been jailed for six months in 1997, many lamas continued visiting OKC. If the declaration signers had known that Spatz would use their letters to counter any criticism or doubt toward him – claiming a kind of spiritual immunity – they might have never signed them.

The Dalai Lama also visited OKC in 1992, before the abuse was exposed.[23] After his meeting with victims of Buddhist sexual abuse in 2018, the Dalai Lama promised them that he would address the problem of abuse in Buddhism by organising a large conference with fellow Buddhist teachers. It is unclear why he has not done this yet.[24]

The Belgian courts take 20 years to convict Spatz

The criminal investigation into Spatz and OKC started in Belgium back in 1996, when he was initially accused of criminal organisation, money laundering, extortion, and breaches of labour law.[25] Then, in 1997, OKC was reported by the French Commission of Inquiry into Sects, which led to large-scale police raids in Provence and Brussels.[26] Spatz was taken into custody.[27]

The Belgian judicial investigation then lasted over 20 years, during which many indictments were made against Spatz, including for the alleged kidnapping, sexual assault, and torture of children.[28] At the end of 2016, he was finally sentenced to four years in prison, with postponement.[29]

Spatz is acquitted

After the 2016 judgement, Spatz appealed. Then, to the shock of the survivors, Spatz was acquitted of all charges in 2018.[30] The Belgian court had come to the conclusion that “irregularities have irrevocably harmed the right of the accused to a fair trial.”[31] However, the survivors counter appealed, which provoked a new trial in 2020.[32]

A conviction without justice

In December 2020 Robert Spatz was fully convicted of his criminal offences, including sexual abuse of minors, hostage-taking, physical abuse of children, and financial fraud.[33] He received a conditional 5-year prison sentence, and had to pay damages to many victims. So far he has not paid any of them, and because the sentence was conditional, he did not actually have to go to prison.[34]

However, the French police had also reopened a full inquiry in 2017, to start investigating everything that was not judged by the Belgian court. For example, one of the former educators at Château-de-Soleils is being investigated for allegedly raping multiple underage girls.[35] For this investigation, a whole generation of roughly 20 survivors gave their testimony to the French authorities for the first time in December 2020. Some survivors claim that the abuse has never actually stopped.[36]

Still in court

The Belgian court case is still ongoing, because Spatz appealed for the third time in the Belgian court of Liège.[37] The case is therefore still in the high court of cassation, which increases the likelihood that Spatz will face a real sentence. Time will tell whether justice is served in the end.

Timo Pieters

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[1] Power and abuse in Dutch Buddhist communities – EARS.

[2] Power and abuse in Buddhism: Sogyal Lakar and Rigpa – EARS.

[3] Sekteleider die kinderen zou hebben gemarteld en misbruikt na 20 jaar vrijuit.

[4] https://okcinfo.news/en/timeline/. Slide 3.

[5] Correspondence with a survivor: Kangyur could not speak or understand English at the time, and there were no competent English-Tibetan translators around yet. This story is therefore almost certainly a fabrication.

[6] These teachers included Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche, Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, and Khenpo Tseten. https://okcinfo.news/en/timeline/.

[7] https://okcinfo.news/en/timeline/. Slide 4.

[8] Sekteleider die kinderen zou hebben gemarteld en misbruikt na 20 jaar vrijuit.

[9] ‘Goeroe met Porsche’ krijgt vier jaar voorwaardelijk.

[10] Belgische sekteleider veroordeeld, ‘zijn misbruik zou me snel verlichten’ | NOS.

[11] ‘Goeroe met Porsche’ krijgt vier jaar voorwaardelijk | De Standaard Mobile.

[12] Voormalig sekteleider vrijuit door procedurefouten.

[13] Le disciple d’un gourou New Age mis en examen pour des agressions sexuelles sur huit victimes.

[14] Belgische sekteleider veroordeeld, ‘zijn misbruik zou me snel verlichten’. Also from private correspondence with one of the survivors who lived in Spatz’s castle as a child.

[15] Private correspondence with a survivor.

[16] Private correspondence with one of the survivors.

[17] Sekteleider die kinderen zou hebben gemarteld en misbruikt na 20 jaar vrijuit.

[18] 170 klachten over marteling, gijzeling, misbruik en fraude. En toch gaat Belgische goeroe vrijuit.

[19] One of the survivors told the author privately that these declarations were requested by OKC (sent to the lamas), but that the signatures and seals are almost certainly authentic (not fabricated).

[20] Attestations.

[21] Their names are: Kalon Tenzin N. Tethong, Dudjom Rinpoche, Penor Rinpoche, and Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche. Timeline. Slide 3.

[22] Private correspondence with a survivor.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Belgische sekteleider veroordeeld, ‘zijn misbruik zou me snel verlichten’.

[25] 170 klachten over marteling, gijzeling, misbruik en fraude. En toch gaat Belgische goeroe vrijuit.

[26] Le disciple d’un gourou New Age mis en examen pour des agressions sexuelles sur huit victimes.

[27] ‘Goeroe met Porsche’ krijgt vier jaar voorwaardelijk.

[28] Timeline. Slide 7.

[29] ‘Goeroe met Porsche’ krijgt vier jaar voorwaardelijk.

[30] Sekteleider die kinderen zou hebben gemarteld en misbruikt na 20 jaar vrijuit.

[31] Voormalig sekteleider vrijuit door procedurefouten.

[32] Private correspondence with a survivor.

[33] Le disciple d’un gourou New Age mis en examen pour des agressions sexuelles sur huit victimes.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.