LOS ANGELES (CN) - American devotees of Hindu mystic Sri Nithyananda claim in court that an Indian TV company doctored a sting video depicting their spiritual leader in a compromising position with an Indian actress, to extort money from his followers.
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California nonprofits Life Bliss Foundation, and Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam Temple & Cultural Center filed a $290 million RICO complaint against Sun TV Network, Nakkheeran Publications and 13 people, in Federal Court.
Calling the defendants an "enterprise," Life Bliss make some alarming allegations, claiming the enterprise made death threats, incited riots, and filed false sexual harassment complaints against Nithyananda and his followers.
Defendants include several employees of Sun TV, including chairman and founder Kalanithi Maran.
Sri Nithyananda, 35, is not a party to the lawsuit.
Nithyananda has been the subject of several controversies in recent years, after the 2010 release of a video claiming to show him engaged intimately with actress Ranjitha Menon. He faced sexual harassment charges but was not convicted, according to The Times of India.
In the new federal complaint, Nithyananda's California-based entities claim that several people, with Sun TV's help, used the sting video to "intimidate, harass, influence and extort funds" from Nithyananda and his followers.
Defendant M. Sridhar told a Nithyananda assistant in 2010 that he had video from a hidden camera in the mystic's ashram depicting the leader "in indecent poses with a woman that appeared to be" Menon, the complaint states.
Life Bliss claims the video, allegedly taken by a camera planted by defendants Aarthi Rao and Lenin Karuppan, was "morphed" so that it appeared that "Menon was the woman in the video and that she and Nithyananda had engaged in inappropriate acts."
Sridhar offered to act as "broker," and promised the video would not be released if Nithyananda acceded to his demands, according to the complaints.
On Feb. 24, 2010 Sridhar met at the Star City hotel in Chennai, India with three of Nithyananda's devotees, Sri Nithya Pranananda, Sri Nithya Bhaktananda, and Sri Nithya Sadhananda, according to the complaint.
Sridhar demanded 6 million rupees, and Rao also talked to the three devotees by telephone from the United States, according to the complaint.
"During this conversation, Rao asserted that in addition to releasing the videos and photos to the media and the Internet, if they did not meet the demands for payment that she would file a false criminal complaint for rape against Nithyananda, which would further degrade his reputation to the point of destruction. Rao further asserted that her criminal report would additionally allege false crimes against Pranananda, Bhaktananda, and Sadhananda," the complaint states.
Pranananda, Bhaktananda, and Sadhananda-who are not parties to the complaint-say they met again the next day with Sridhar and Lenin at the Star Hotel.
This time, four unidentified men "proceeded to attack and beat" the three devotees, and stole 500,000 rupees from their hotel room, Life Bliss says in the complaint.
Pranananda, Bhaktananda, and Sadhananda later handed over another 2.5 million rupees to Sridhar, the complaint states.