Trial Opens in "Order of Solar Temple" Case

Questions Surround Collective-Suicide Scenario

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GRENOBLE, France, APR. 24, 2001 ( The first court case against the Order of the Solar Temple sect opened here with just one accused: French-Swiss orchestra conductor Michel Tabachnik.

Between 1994 and 1997, 74 adherents of this sect died in alleged «collective suicides» in Switzerland, France and Canada.

Tabachnik, regarded as the No. 3 man of this apocalyptic sect, was officially accused April 17 of «association with evildoers for the purpose of planning the killings.»

The 59-year-old musician admits to having had ties with the sect, but categorically denies a role in the doctrine and «murderous dynamic» that would end in the alleged «collective suicides.»

In two meetings held in Avignon in 1994, shortly before the first of the five «collective suicides,» Tabachnik announced the end of the sect and «the irreversible stage of return to the father.» Now he is facing a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of about $136,000.

Attorney Alain Leclerc plans to present four «conclusions of incidents» in order to obtain a postponement of the hearing and the reopening of the instruction.

On Dec. 23, 1995, the remains of 16 individuals — including three children ages 6 years, 4 years and 19 months — were found in the «Hole of Hell» located in Vercors, in southeastern France. The bodies had bullet perforations and were positioned in the shape of a star.

According to the investigators´ first reconstruction, two of the individuals were the executioners: French policeman Jean-Pierre Lardanchet and architect Andre Friedli, who, after killing their sect companions, committed suicide by shooting themselves in the mouth. Forensic experts discovered that two women, mothers of the victim-children, suffered fractures of the cranium and face before their death.

The victims´ lawyer has referred to «a mafia network with ramifications in police circles,» and has insinuated that the motive was financial. Among the sect´s founders were three secretaries of known French politicians. Millions of French francs passed through the sect´s account; the group also acquired a vast patrimony in real estate. One of its adherents was Camille Pillet, the rich Geneva director of Piaget watches.

In fact, Judge of Instruction Luc Fontaine said that the sect was structured like «a multinational.» It was «a gigantic commercial business» with financial interests in Europe, Canada and Australia, the judge said.

Psychotherapist Rejuta Paulais of Bordeaux, who could have ended up as victim No. 17 in Vercors, sent a fax to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, contradicting the investigators´ account of what happened. Paulais contends that there was no suicide involved in Vercors, but rather the whole event was a massacre.

This thesis might be verified by the testimonies presented to the court, which reveal that cars left the place after the killings. Proponents of this thesis also say the alleged use of phosphorus to burn the bodies proves the involvement of professional killers.

The origins of the sect reflect the triple influence of Masons, Templars and Rosicrucians, from which the Golden Way Foundation stemmed; the latter preceded the Order of the Solar Temple. The doctrine was rooted in the «transit» theory: As the apocalypse is approaching, an «elite» of initiates must leave their «carnal cover and transit toward (the star) Sirius in order to preserve ´the spirit of humanity.´»

Joseph Di Mambro was the «guru,» and Luc Jouret the preacher and No. 2 man of the sect. Their bodies were found in chalets in Cheiry and Salvan in Switzerland, where 48 people died on Oct. 4, 1994.

Four days earlier, five adherents were knifed to death, and on March 22, 1997, the last known «collective suicide» of the sect took place in Saint-Casimir, Quebec, which resulted in five deaths.

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