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Conductor not guilty in doomsday cult deaths, French court finds
The Globe and Mail (Canada), June 26, 2001
LONDON -- A French court acquitted Swiss orchestra conductor Michel Tabachnik yesterday of criminal charges related to the murder and suicide of 74 members of the Order of the Solar Temple, the doomsday cult that was active in France, Switzerland and Canada.
Mr. Tabachnik, a 58-year-old specialist in contemporary music who worked for the Canadian Opera Company and the University of Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the 1980s, had been charged by a court in Grenoble with "participation in a criminal association" involving the cult's ritual killings.
Between 1994 and 1997, 74 Temple members died in four mass suicide-killings in Switzerland, France and Canada. Members of the cult were taught that suicide would transport them to a new world called Sirius. The court decided that it could find no definitive link between the deaths and Mr. Tabachnik's connection to the sect and its leaders over a period of nearly 20 years.
Mr. Tabachnik admitted during the trial that he had links with the cult but denied he was one of its leading figures. He helped found a precursor organization, the Golden Way Foundation, in 1983 with Frenchman Joseph Di Mambro.
Mr. Di Mambro later set up the Solar Temple with Swiss Luc Jouret. The two died in the first cult-related deaths in 1994.
Francis Szpiner, Mr. Tabachnik's lawyer, welcomed the acquittal and suggested the judges had resisted media pressure to convict the musician.
The Association de défence de la famille et de l'individu, an anticult lobby group, said the acquittal was a disappointment that illustrated the need for France's recently passed legislation governing sects.
"With this law on the books, Michel Tabachnik wouldn't have been able to escape punishment," the association's lawyer, Francis Buillemin, said.
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