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Swiss conductor acquitted of sect killings

Swiss conductor Tabachnik during his appeal trial in Grenoble

(Keystone)

Swiss orchestra conductor Michel Tabachnik has been cleared of criminal involvement in the deaths of 16 members of a doomsday cult in France.

An appeals court in France on Wednesday upheld the verdict of a lower court, which in 2001 acquitted Tabachnik over the deaths of members of the Swiss-based Order of the Solar Temple.

Tabachnik, who admitted to belonging to the Solar Temple cult, was accused of encouraging cult members to "a transit towards the star Sirius"- a reference to mass suicide.

He stood trial in 2001, but was cleared of charges of conspiring to brainwash 74 followers of the group into accepting death by occult ritual.

At the new trial in Grenoble he faced new charges relating to 16 cult members, three of them children, whose charred remains were discovered in the French Alps in December 1995. It came after prosecutors appealed against his original acquittal.

The appeal came to court after numerous delays caused by the indictment in Paris of the main psychiatric expert responsible for overseeing the Order of the Solar Temple case.

Notorious

The Solar Temple cult gained worldwide notoriety between September 1994 and March 1997 when the burnt bodies of 74 of its members were found in Switzerland, Canada and then France.

Several had been shot in the head or asphyxiated, and many had been drugged, in what were apparently ritual murders, although some were thought to have been willing participants in the supposed mass suicides.

The two founders of the sect, Luc Jouret and Jo Di Mambro, were among the dead. They had allegedly extorted followers of their money and convinced them that they must die by burning to attain bliss in the afterworld.

At his trial in 2001, Tabachnik denied accusations of indoctrination. He also rejected charges that his writings – inspired by a mixture of the occult, and New Age and esoteric theories – had prepared the way for the cult members' deaths.

Swiss authorities investigating the deaths of 48 cult members who perished in two apparent mass-suicides in cantons Valais and Fribourg in 1994 failed to establish any link between the cult and Tabachnik, but a French investigating magistrate decided there was enough evidence to put the conductor on trial.

Tabachnik, who studied under conductor Pierre Boulez and composer Iannis Xenakis, has led the Philharmonic Orchestra of Lorraine and orchestras in Canada and New York.

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CHRONOLOGY OF THE SOLAR TEMPLE AFFAIR

1983 – The Belgian Luc Jouret and Frenchman Joseph De Mambro found a secret order in Geneva combining several groups. In 1990 the sect is named the Order of the Solar Temple.

September 30, 1994 – A 35-year-old Swiss man, his wife and three-month-old child are murdered in Morin Heights in Québec in an apartment belonging to Di Mambro. Four days later a Swiss couple are also found dead in the same location.

October 5, 1994 - 23 bodies are discovered in a burnt-out farm in Cheiry in canton Fribourg. The same day 25 bodies, including those of Jouret and Di Mambro, are found in Salvan in canton Valais.

December 23, 1995 - 16 bodies are discovered in a star formation in the Vercors region in France.

April 3, 1996 – According to the three Swiss judges in charge of the case in Switzerland, none of the people responsible for the massacres survived.

March 22, 1997 – Five bodies are discovered in a house belonging to a cult member in St Casimir in Québec. In total, 74 cult members died (30 Swiss, 30 French and ten Canadians).

July 3 2000 – Michel Tabachnik is ordered to appear before the Grenoble court for "criminal association", accused of being one of the cult leaders.

June 25, 2001 – The Grenoble court acquits Tabachnik of "criminal association". The prosecutor's office lodges an appeal.

December 20, 2006 - Grenoble appeals court upholds Tabachnik's acquittal.

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