'Chinese spy' allegations rock Tibetans
By Saransh Sehgal
DHARAMSALA, India - The 25-year-old 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje,
Tibetan Buddhism's third-highest lama, is making headlines after Indian police
raided the Gyuto Tantric monastery - his temporal base in Dharamsala, the de
facto capital of Tibetan exiles - and seized a large amount of foreign currency.
Indian police officials say that a sum worth around US$777,000 in nearly two
dozen foreign currencies was seized last Wednesday, including a large amount of
Chinese yuan. "The amount was so large that we will certainly look into every
angle of what could be the source," said D S Minhas, director general of police
in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
The seizure of so much yuan has prompted speculation in Indian media about a
possible "Chinese link". Indian authorities had not trusted Trinley Dorje since
his dramatic escape from Tibet to India in 2000, as he is the first
reincarnation of a high lama officially accepted by the communist government of
His status as a 17th Karmapa is also under challenge from another claimant,
Ogyen Thaye Dorjee. This is why he hasn't been allowed to take the official seat
of the Karmapa in India at Rumtek monastery in Sikkim, and has failed to gain
the trust of the Indian government.
Officials say Trinley Dorje has been interrogated by a series of police and
intelligence agencies over the source of the cash, so far denying any links with
"Links with China are one of the various aspects being looked at. He is not
under house arrest but certain restrictions have been imposed on him," said
Minhas. "Fifty questions were asked to the Karmapa and he denied all
allegations. He said the money was given to him by devotees," said Kapoor,
another senior policeman leading the questioning.
State police launched the two-day search operation at the monastery in
Dharamsala, from where the Dalai Lama heads the Tibetan government in exile. The
Karmapa lives in a rooftop room of the monastery.
The police raided the administration of the Kagyu office (Karmapa is of the
Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism), arresting Trinley Dorje's closest aide and
accountant, Shakti Lama, and quizzing many of his officials. The Karmapa was
inside the monastery during the police raid.
Police sources say the raid was launched in connection with the arrest of two
Indians in the Una border region, with 10 million rupees ($22,200) seized in
The two men told police they had received the money from a monk at the monastery
to buy a plot of land near Dharamsala, said Santosh Patial, a senior district
The police claim that early investigations have revealed that the Kagyu office
of the Karmapa had struck an allegedly illegal land deal with an Indian
businessman to buy land in and around Dharamsala.
Officials now say two more men have been arrested, "Indian businessman K P
Bhardwaj, who is believed to have struck a land deal with the Karmapa's Karma
Garchen Trust, and a banker, K Dhar, were arrested last night following raids
conducted at the residence and hotel of Bhardwaj and clues provided by him
during questioning with regard to the money trail," inspector-general of police
P L Thakur was quoted as saying by Asian News International last Friday.
Some believe the issue could simply be a case of the Kagyu officials falling
foul of land-purchase regulations, since Indians from other Indian states need
special government permission to buy land in Himachal Pradesh. However,
questions are still being raised over the source of the foreign currency.
Observers say that even if the Karmapa could explain the source of the money, he
might be held liable for violating the Foreign Exchange Management Act that
prohibits people holding large amounts of foreign currency. The Karmapa's trust
also does not have permission under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act to
accept foreign donations.
The Karmapa office has tried to clarify the situation and after consulting
diplomatic advisers and lawyers, released a statement stressing that "the
allegations being leveled against the Karmapa and his administration are grossly
speculative and without foundation in the truth ... We categorically deny having
any link whatsoever with any arm of the Chinese government."
"The cash in question under the current investigation by the police is offerings
received for charitable purposes from local and international disciples from
many different countries wishing to support His Holiness' various charitable
activities. Any suggestion that these offerings were to be used for illegal
purposes in libelous," it added.
The incident has sent shockwaves through the Tibetan exile community, even
drawing the attention of the Dalai Lama, who has backed the Karmapa but urged a
probe into the cash found. "There should be a thorough investigation. He [the
Karmapa] is an important lama," the Dalai Lama told media in Bangalore on
"Karmapa has many devotees including from China ... some money would have
naturally been received by him," added the Nobel prize winner. "There has been
some negligence. We better now have a thorough investigation."
Beijing has also reacted over the controversy, distancing itself from the
allegations in the Indian media.
"The speculation by India's media regarding the matter of the Karmapa as a
Chinese agent or spy, shows that India is keeping its mistrustful attitude
toward China," Xu Zhitao, an official of the ruling Communist Party's United
Front Work Department, told the state-run Global Times newspaper.
Unlike its treatment of the Dalai Lama, Beijing has refrained from denouncing
the Karmapa, despite his embarrassing flight from Tibet in late 1999.
New Delhi has been watching the row closely, and Indian Home Minister P
Chidambaram said, "Investigations are underway in Karmapa case. No conclusion
has been drawn on whether he is a Chinese agent or not."
The Indian public has been gripped by the story, and it has sparked debate on a
number of national news channels.
Some media agencies have quoted an investigating officer as saying, "There are
enough indications that Karmapa was in regular touch with the Chinese
authorities to help Beijing control Buddhist monasteries from Ladakh in Jammu
and Kashmir to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. This huge seizure substantiates what
we have always suspected."
However, Sujit Dutta, a scholar at New Delhi's Nelson Mandela Center for Peace
and Conflict Resolution, says it is far too early to speculate on the outcome of
the investigation. He expects India and China to watch the case closely.
"This will have diplomatic implications for India-China relations, It will only
add another problem to the already difficult set of issues the two countries
face," Dutta told the Voice of America.
Former Indian intelligence official B Raman said the allegation that the Karmapa
was a Chinese spy was aimed at dividing the Tibetan community in exile before
the 75-year-old Dalai Lama passes away. "He was selected according to Tibetan
tradition but the Chinese approved his selection. They hope they will be able to
use him to influence the selection of the next Dalai Lama. I'm suspicious. I've
always suspected it's a Chinese intelligence operation. They think long term" he
Thousands of Tibetans, Indians and Western Buddhists have gathered at the Gyuto
monastery to show their solidarity with the Karmapa. Many Tibetan exiles say the
Indian media have acted irresponsibly by publishing such allegations against a
"living Buddha" before the police probe is even complete.
Devotees in Dharamsala, New Delhi and Sikkim have led candlelight vigils in
support of the Karmapa, with online petitions and social networking sites also
being used to deny the allegation of spying.
The Tibetan government in exile has also backed its religious leader, saying at
a press conference, "Many people send large amounts of money to the lama as a
token of respect. If anybody is trying to talk of any conspiracy, it is totally
unwarranted ... there is no basis to the media speculation linking the Karmapa
Lama with the Chinese government."
The cash scandal has placed the Karmapa in the middle of an unholy row that has
puzzled Indian intelligence agencies and which could blacken the image of a
future Tibetan leader in exile. While the Dalai Lama and the government in exile
have come out in his support, some are questioning why Beijing has taken such
care and attention to also deny the allegations.
Saransh Sehgal is a writer based in Dharamsala, India, he can be
reached at[email protected]