Prostitution, extortion and money laundering at a Buenos Aires ‘yoga school’

Argentine police arrest 24 people accused of victimizing the vulnerable for more than 30 years

Police display money and other objects seized during the raid in Buenos Aires.Photo: POLICÍA DE ARGENTINA | Video: REUTERS

The Buenos Aires Yoga School has been operating for more than 30 years in the heart of Argentina’s capital city. People would talk about the “strange things” they saw going on in the white, 10-story building with bars on the doors in the Villa Crespo neighborhood. Argentine police recently conducted 50 separate raids and arrested 24 members of the school, including its 84-year-old founder, Juan Percowicz. They have been charged with belonging to a cult that victimized hundreds of people who came to the school in search of “happiness,” and instead were stripped of all their possessions, forced into servitude and even prostituted.

The Argentine justice system is very familiar with Percowicz. In 1993, he was charged with the same crimes that have now landed him in jail, but escaped justice when his case bounced around three different courts because of his connections with local politicians and international human rights organizations. The charges against Percowicz and the “yoga school” were ultimately dropped back then, but almost 30 years later, it’s time for Percowicz and his accomplices to face justice again.

The leader is now an old man who lives in a gated community on the outskirts of Buenos Aires and drives expensive cars. When the police raided his house, they found about $15,000 in local currency, as well as silver coins and US dollars. Percowicz’s partners are located all over Argentina and the United States, where the cult maintains a recruiting office.

The cult used textbook methods to dupe their victims. They used hierarchical recruiting systems disguised as philosophy courses and a well-oiled operation to keep the money flowing into their coffers. At the top of the seven-level pyramid stood Percowicz, who called himself “Angel” or “Master.” Underneath him were “Apostles” (level six), “Geniuses” (level five), and “Pupils” (level four). Levels 1-3 were for ordinary humans. According to the indictment, the high-level members were in charge of the various activities that channeled people and resources to the organization.

The BA Group was in charge of recruitment, and billed itself as an “ontological coaching” school for attaining personal happiness. Located in downtown Buenos Aires, over 1,700 people went through the school over the years. Once inside, the women were forced to undergo a “geisha” apprenticeship, a euphemism for prostitution, and were turned over to wealthy businessmen who paid for their services. In return, the women were awarded points that enabled them to ascend to the next level of the pyramid.

The cult collected fees and money earned by their victims, who also donated property and made monthly contributions of up to $10,000 to be promoted to Genius or Apostle level. Wayward “patients” were forced to consume a “sleep treatment” consisting of a cocktail of drugs that purportedly cured all kinds of addictions and even AIDS. The patients were mostly recruited in the United States and sent to Buenos Aires for treatment.

The police raids collected over $1 million in cash, 30 silver medallions, a large collection of porn videos, sex toys, and medical records and property titles belonging to the students. According to a police report, “… their profits from exploiting all these people would be laundered through real estate agencies and a local public notary business belonging to the organization, as well as various foundations established in the United States, thereby generating a steady flow of foreign income for the organization.”

Recordings from the wiretaps ordered by Judge Ariel Lijo revealed details about the cult’s recruiting process. In one recording released by the Infobae outlet, Juan Percowicz and Marcela Sorkin, an Apostle nicknamed the “Lioness,” can be heard discussing a student living in the United States who decided without warning to decrease her monthly contributions from $10,000 to $1,000. “And now she tells me that she has to come to Buenos Aires to see her biological family,” Sorkin says. “The girl says she wants to buy an apartment in the United States and spend all the money she inherited from that polo player. She is so self-destructive, Juan, so self-destructive.”

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