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Last Updated: Friday, 21 January, 2005, 11:26 GMT
Murder conspiracy charge for seer
Jayendra Saraswathi
Jayendra Saraswathi was arrested in November
One of India's leading Hindu priests, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, has been charged with conspiracy to murder, as has his deputy, Vijayendra Saraswathi.

Twenty-three other people also face charges following the killing of a temple worker in November.

The two religious leaders deny any involvement in the death of the man at a Tamil Nadu monastery headed by Sri Jayendra Saraswathi.

The seer is one of India's most revered religious figures.

His arrest angered his Hindu nationalist supporters.

Sri Jayendra Saraswathi was recently freed on bail. But he is barred from returning to the Hindu religious centre, the Kanchi Shankara Mutt, that he heads in the town of Kanchipuram.

As well as conspiracy to murder, Sri Saraswathi and his deputy Vijayendra Saraswathi have also been charged with destroying evidence of the crime.

Prosecutors allege that the two men hatched a conspiracy to kill the former aide, Sankararaman, and hired hit men to murder him.

Both men have denied any role in the killing.

Controversy over arrests

Earlier this month, India's Supreme Court ordered Sri Jayendra Saraswathi's release from a Tamil Nadu jail on payment of a bail bond and two sureties.

The judges said police had found no evidence to suggest the cleric had shown any resentment towards the murdered temple official, who is alleged to have criticised his conduct.

VHP members lash with police over cleric's arrest, Hyderabad
Hindu nationalists protested against the cleric's arrest

Sri Jayendra Saraswathi's arrest had whipped up a storm among some Hindu nationalist groups, including the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

They say charges against the seer should be dropped, arguing that the evidence against him is too weak.

Vijayendra Saraswathi is still in prison.

Vijayendra Saraswathi became interim leader when Sri Jayendra Saraswathi was arrested in November.

The murdered man, Sankararaman, reportedly wrote anonymous letters accusing Sri Jayendra Saraswathi of misusing monastery funds.

The allegations included embezzlement of gold procured for making a temple chariot and providing lavish lifestyles for the seer's relatives.

The alleged hit men were arrested several weeks after the murder of Sankararaman in September.


SEE ALSO:
Hindu seer facing finance crisis
14 Jan 05 |  South Asia
Hindu temple murder suspect held
20 Dec 04 |  South Asia
BJP demands transfer of seer case
26 Nov 04 |  South Asia
Demand to probe cleric's arrest
15 Nov 04 |  South Asia


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