Sangeet’s in-depth analysis about the ongoing court case involving OIF, Zurich and the forged ‘will’.
The group calling itself the Inner Circle has recently sent out a message with excerpts from a decision of the Swiss Federal Supervisory Board for Foundations that had previously removed the board members from the OIF, Zurich board and appointed a trustee. The new order temporarily reinstates OIF board members. The IC message failed to report that the primary reason given in the decision for reinstating the OIF board members at this point in time was that a worldwide book fair will be held in October (in Frankfurt) and that it is essential for the board members to be free to negotiate publishing contracts or the Foundation will suffer irreparable financial harm and the trustee was unable to supervise this activity.
This injunction related only to the makeup of the OIF board pending the review of the complaint against the OIF board members. It was not a decision on the merits of the case, though comments were made about the merits. Under the order, Robert Doetsch (Ramateertha), as the official complainant, has 30 days to appeal this reinstatement order to the Federal Administrative Court in St. Gallen. This is not an appeal of the final decision on the complaint, only of the interim reinstatement.
Meanwhile, the submission of evidence related to the original complaint will continue. Ramateertha has until October 13, 2014 to reply to the OIF board members’ reply to his complaint in the ongoing administrative process, but an extension is likely. After that the board members may be given another opportunity to reply. Board members may also receive extensions to file these replies, so it is unclear when a final decision will be made. Until the Swiss government makes a final decision the board members will not be cleared, and the Swiss office has reserved the right to require supervisions of the board members during the pendency of the proceeding.
The conclusions about the validity of the original complaint against OIF board members quoted by the Inner Circle are based on the report and recommendations of the trustee appointed by the Swiss government, Andreas G. Keller, who has concluded that the allegations of the complaint were baseless. In reaching this preliminary conclusion both the trustee and the Supervisory Board ignored the overwhelming evidence of at least one illegal activity by these individuals.
The strongest accusation of illegal behavior is that two members of the board of OIF, Michael Byrne (Jayesh) and John Andrew (Amrito), and their attorney, Phillip Toelkes (Niren), filed a “will” as evidence in a legal proceeding purported to be Osho’s will. They all signed the “will,” claiming that they were witnesses to Osho’s signature in 1989. Forensic examination has shown that the alleged Osho signature on the “will” was identical to the signature on a 1976 letter from Osho that was posted on several websites [see Forensic reports below]. Since then a copy of the letter has been found on the cover of the book Yoga: The Alpha and the Omega, v. 5, published in 1976 [see here]. Forensic examinations are confirming that the signature on the book cover is the same as the signature on the alleged will and that the paper of the book cover is older than 1989.
Four forensic experts in three countries (Germany, Italy, and India) have confirmed with 100 percent certainty that if the will is more recent than the original signature or copies of the signature, the will is unquestionably a forgery. Still, the Supervisory Board alleges that no illegal activity was found. If the will is forged, then members of the board, their attorney, and other members of the board who were involved in the legal proceeding where the will was submitted or who knew of the forgery and failed to report it (basically all of them), may be guilty of criminal offenses for conspiracy, forgery, and providing false testimony with regard to the primary claimed assets of the Foundation.
This issue has not even been mentioned, let alone addressed, by the latest order, though it was clearly presented in the complaint and mentioned in the Board’s earlier order suspending the board members.
At the very least, evidence of forgery and the submission of false testimony means that all the assertions of the OIF board members must be subjected to rigorous independent investigation. How much credibility is left for anyone who would stoop so low as to forge a will of their own teacher/Master? If they would be dishonest about that, what wouldn’t they be dishonest about?
The alleged illegal activity of forgery and providing false testimony is very relevant to this proceeding and cannot simply be ignored when the substance of the complaint is addressed. OIF claims to have approximately 2,700 publishing contracts for Osho’s work. In 2011 Klaus Steeg (Pramod) testified [see Pramod’s Witness Statement] that in 2011 OIF had “over 200,000 e-subscribers” on the Osho website. On the website, subscription prices range from $1.99 to 2.49 per month. This would mean that OIF was receiving from $4,776,000 to $8,376,000 annually in 2011 just from e-subscribers, and may be receiving more now. This income is primarily based on OIF’s claim to own Osho’s copyrights, including digital rights.
So the alleged assets of the Foundation, from which it claims millions in income per year, are the exact same assets covered in the “will,” which experts say is forged, and ownership of these assets is worth a substantial amount of money. That could make the attempt to attain it by fraud a serious crime, and the Swiss government needs to fully investigate these allegations.
The activity of forging such a will raises several serious questions: 1) questions about the honesty and character of the accused perpetrators and their suitability to operate a nonprofit foundation; 2) the reason behind the alleged fraud. Why would board members need to forge a will if the Foundation was operating above board and actually owned what it claimed to own? 3) How much damage has been done to the Foundation’s purpose by the actions of board members, since their actions, in the name of the Foundation, reflect on Osho and damage his reputation? 4) Why didn’t Mr. Keller ask ‒ or answer ‒ any of these questions before recommending temporary reinstatement of board members?
OIF’s claim to own Osho’s copyrights has always been disputed. In the case regarding trademarks in the US OIF claimed to own copyrights based on documents dated in 1978, 1981, and 1985 [see 3 PDF files below]. That claim was refuted first because the 1978 and 1981 documents were not copyright assignments, but licenses, and second because no originals could be produced to prove those documents were authentic.
In the EU proceeding regarding the trademark issue OIF came up with a whole new theory of copyright ownership. It then claimed to own Osho’s copyrights based on an alleged assignment by Sheela in 1983 under alleged powers of attorney from Osho [see Additional submissions below]. However, when asked to produce originals of any of these documents, OIF was unable do so.
So, as the EU proceeding was drawing to a close, OIF submitted the “will” as its new or additional basis for claiming copyright ownership [see Additional submissions below]. The credibility and integrity of the OIF board members then came glaringly into question.
Osho’s intellectual property rights are valuable, not only in a monetary sense, but as spiritual teachings and insight allegedly entrusted to a Swiss foundation to be held for the benefit of everyone, alive now or in future generations, who wants access to this insight for any reason. The issue of board membership cannot be about the board members and their belief in their entitlement to be on the board of the Foundation no matter what they do. People who willfully commit criminal acts in the name of the Foundation must be removed from the board to protect the purpose of the Foundation, which is to present Osho’s teaching to the world. This protection is for the good of the beneficiaries of the Foundation and to further the Foundation’s purpose.
Switzerland has both a legal and a moral duty to preserve the assets of the Foundation, including the good name of Osho, and remove from a position of authority people who are found to have carried out illegal activities in the name of the Foundation.
Removal of board members will not harm the Foundation. Turnover in board membership is inevitable in nonprofits that span human lifetimes. The current board, all near or past retirement age, will leave the board at some point in any event and the Foundation will continue. New board members can be appointed who have business expertise and access to business advisors who can carry on the work, including the work of financial restructuring to recover from the financial mess the current board has created. The greatest risk to the work of the Foundation is if the board consists of people who try and take personal control of the foundation’s assets, as Jayesh is accused of doing through the “will,” or people who destroy Osho’s reputation and the purpose of the Foundation through their willful public acts.
The board members are not victims. No one held a gun to their heads and said, “Forge a will that will give Michael Byrne (Jayesh) personal control of Osho’s assets, lie about the validity of the will in a legal proceeding, and then continue to lie about the validity of the will for over a year,” yet this is exactly what these people are accused of doing. Whatever they have done, they have done out of their own choice, for their own purposes, and are responsible for the consequences. The purpose of the Foundation must not suffer because of their bad choices and selfish actions.
Rather than address any of this, the trustee, Keller, went on to complain about Ramateertha personally and question his motivation for filing a complaint, in spite of the fact that there is evidence to show that Ramateertha was motivated to complain about the board members because of the alleged will forgery. He did not contact the Swiss government until after the “will” was placed in evidence and after forensic evidence indicated it was forged, and he was not only encouraged to follow up on his complaint, but guided in making the complaint by Swiss officials.
Keller also criticized people who have supported Ramateertha’s complaint. (Keller didn’t name them, but they are Alvaro Ruffo della Scaletta and Vaidehe Vadgama (Chidananda and Videh).) Keller claimed they concealed their identities prior to the order that removed the board members. However, extensive written evidence shows that Swiss officials had repeated contact with these two over the period of a year and that Chidananda and Videh fully identified themselves and revealed their own interest in translating Osho’s work from Hindi to English long before the complaint was filed. There was no surprise to the Swiss government, no withholding of information, and the persons who made the initial order removing the board members had access to full information about interested parties before that order was made. For the trustee to misstate the facts like this and to refer to people working to translate Osho’s work as “competitors” of the Foundation, while at the same time emphasizing the nonprofit purpose of the Foundations, is not only absurd, but indicates an unacceptable bias.
This bias may be related to Keller’s relationship with Jayesh. On June 24, 2014, Keller met with Ramateertha in Zurich. Keller informed Ramateertha that he had met with Michael Byrne (Jayesh), who had told Keller that he had loaned millions to the Foundation and would forgive the debt except for concerns about gift tax. Jayesh claimed to be so wealthy because he deals in real estate and sells oil wells. Keller apparently believed these assertions without proof and was very impressed with what he imagined was Jayesh’s deep commitment to Osho’s work.
Comments in the most recent order indicate that Keller most likely did not do a more thorough independent investigation of the board member activities than he did of the story Jayesh told him. Keller, after all, concluded that the board members were blameless without even addressing the forensic evidence on forgery done in the name of the Foundation. He also asserted that the current debt is to an offshore foundation in Belize, not to Jayesh, and that Jayesh was acting as a trustee for the Belize foundation when he received money from the operation of the Osho.com website. The question of the quality of Keller’s work will no doubt continue to be asked on many levels as this case continues.
I have not yet seen the arguments and documents submitted by OIF, so comment on those will be for a later article. At the moment OIF appears (on the books) to be around $8 million in “debt” to Osho Multi Media Trust located offshore in Belize. The Supervisory Board currently appears to believe that this was a loan related to maintenance of the archives in the 1990s, but what is this trust, who is on the board, where did it get money to “loan,” and when was a “loan” made to OIF? Did Keller conduct a full investigation of this? Keller and some Swiss officials may believe in oil wells and mystery trusts that provide millions of dollars, but in the world of people making Osho’s teachings available, these are highly suspicious claims. Anyone with any information about this is encouraged to share it.
Further, the income from the Osho.com website is being paid into a Hong Kong company, with Jayesh listed as the sole shareholder. If, as Keller claims, Jayesh owns the Hong Kong for-profit as a trustee for the Belize trust, and the millions of dollars from e-subscribers or other users of the website are being paid to the Belize trust every year, how can the Swiss Foundation be $8 million in debt to that offshore trust, placing OIF on the brink of bankruptcy?
There is a danger that OIF will attempt to “settle” this “debt” by purporting to transfer its claimed ownership of Osho’s intellectual property rights to an offshore trust where there will be no supervision of the board members’ actions. This would trigger litigation about the legality of the transfer and about OIF and/or the mystery trust’s claimed ownership of intellectual property rights. That could throw copyright ownership into limbo for many years and destroy the current publishing arrangements, not to mention wasting assets that could be used to make Osho’s teachings more available.
There are several other questions that need investigation: The Hong Kong Registry Office records show that O International Digital Media (which is receiving the income from the website) is, or was, owned personally by Jayesh. Now Keller asserts it is owned by the offshore trust. Who is correct? Swiss authorities from several different government offices informed interested parties that OIF had been tax-exempt, but lost its tax-exempt status in 2012. Now Keller asserts that OIF was never tax-exempt. Who is correct? Why are Swiss authorities contradicting each other (and then blaming others)?
Allegations of personal gain by board members made in the original complaint open a whole other legal can of worms, because the alleged transfer of copyrights to OIF from RFI (Rajneesh Friends formerly Rajneesh Foundation International) required that the board members of OIF never profit from the assets. Yet the records of OIF show that the board members are also board members of for-profit corporations that do business with OIF, and that at least one such for-profit, America Multi-Media based in Arizona (Klaus Steeg (Pramod) and John Andrews (Amrito) as board members), was “loaned” almost $1.5 million by OIF, and the “loan” was never repaid, greatly contributing to OIF’s alleged financial difficulties. What are the facts behind this? Did Keller investigate?
Are there other dubious transactions that have contributed to the present precarious financial state of the Foundation besides the Belize and America Multi-Media “loans”? Did a company owned by Jayesh in Hong Kong receive funds from the Foundation? Are the OIF board members paid by the various related companies around the world? If so, how much are they paid and for what duties? Board members can be legitimate employees of a foundation or of companies owned by a foundation, but the employment must be legitimate, they must be the most qualified people for the job, the salary must be reasonable, and they have to actually do the work they are paid to do.
Much remains to be discovered, so stay tuned.
Ma Prem Sangeet (Sangeet Duchane) was trained as an attorney and was the city attorney for Rajneeshpuram and Antelope during the Ranch days, and Osho’s legal representative and researcher in Pune Two. She was also a writer and editor for the Rajneesh/Osho Times and has been the editor of the Viha Connection for many years. She became involved in the case challenging Osho trademarks in the US in 2000 and worked on the case until it was resolved in 2009. She now lives in northern California, where she works as a writer and editor. sangeetduchane2 (at) aol.com – replace (at) with @
This article has been also published at OshoViha