For decades, the Sathya Sai Central Trust had tax and custom duty exemption as a Charitable Trust, with special allowances and largely undisclosed financial advantages, subsidies and support by Indian governments. As such it is not legally required to have any rules or guidelines, being run entirely by an unaccountable Board of Directors (under Sathya Sai Baba as Chairman until his decease in 2011). How or to whom authority and funds were and are delegated is unknown, no minutes of meetings available and all internal matters are kept secret, including the reason for dismissals by Sai Baba of Board members or other staff. Donors cannot monitor the use of their monies in any way.
That the Sathya Sai mini-imperium became worth billions of dollars is indisputed. The main coffer for Sai funds is his Sathya Sai Central Trust, which is a non-transparent unaccountable body. The
After Sathya Sai Baba's death in April 2011, a major struggle for control of the Sathya Sai Central Trust ensued, reported widely in the Indian press. The massive hoard of wealth discovered in his secret apartment when it was finally opened by the sole owner of the key, his young boyfriend and supposed inheritor and successor Satyajit, led to a series of scandals, including apprehension of major sums of money from the temple being transported by van late at night. The subsequent arrests and legal proceedings agains the successful inheritor, his nephew Ratnakar, led to nothing. Massive bribery is known to have been a method used by Sathya Sai Baba, which indicates how the court cases came to nothing. Under massive media and even governmental pressures - including the cessation of governmental subsidies to the Trust, Ratnakar and his puppet board of directors decided that it would publish accounts in future. Unfortunately, the results of this are far from satisfactory and have not make the Trust transparent by any means, though some information has been released. See the report on this on the righ here.
Legal notice issued against Sathya Sai Baba already in 1993
Then there is the use of devotees' donated funds for projects which serve mainly only to honour Sai Baba himself (see wasteful extravagance here) white elephant projects (i.e. the Sathya Sai Airport, which is up for sale and can't find a buyer) - or largely flawed undertakings like the Rayalaseema Water Project and now, it appears,both the Cricket field and Indoor Stadium at Prashanthi Nilayam (where a Tennis Tournament between India and the Philippines had to be abandoned minutes after players were on the court ready to start!). It is well known that the Rayalaseema Water Project was largely botched. The water table fell during the planning (despite the repeated claims of Sai Baba that he is omniscient, omnipotent and that nothing to which he puts his will can ever fail!) Nonetheless, Sathya Sai Baba asked the Andhra Pradesh state authorities to take over the entire running and further financing of the project. There are often considerable losses of money through wrong investment, embezzlement and that much is spent on wasteful buildings and many and unnecessarily costly celebrations to celebrate Sai Baba above all. No one can tell where money not used is spend or placed. A complete absence of accountability operates throughout Sathya Sai officialdom in India (also to varying degrees in most other countries). Those who are aware about the extent and depth of corruption in India, the pay-offs, kick-backs and ingrained financial embezzlement throughout most of the country will not be surprised. I write this simply to warn and try to redress some of the cover-ups about money matters in the Sai mini-empire, money which was pledged to raising the lot of the poor through education and help projects.
During Sai Baba's 70th birthday celebrations, when the extensive
Rayalaseema project to provide water in the local area was inaugurated,
Mr. Srinivas of the Central Trust of the Sathya Sai Organisation
read out from the podium in front of Sai Baba a long list of major
donors and the sums given (but only of those giving 10 million
rupees or more!) All this was duly recorded on film and soundtracks,
also transcribed and printed afterwards.. These donations totalled
many millions of dollars, large sums coming from various devotees
from such countries as the
The morning that the news of Reddy being shot dead arrived, V.K. Narasimhan came over and told me about it, for earlier he had recounted for me how he had been taken by Sai Baba in his car to visit the same Mr. Reddy in his palatial residence some months previously. Reddy had told Sai Baba that he wanted to get out of politics and other (criminal) involvements, which wish was anyhow now fulfilled definitively!
V.K. Narasimhan was disturbed that Sai Baba broke the rule set by Mahatma Gandhi (of whom VKN was an ardent follower) never to accept so-called 'blood money'. VKN made the best of it eventually, however, by hoping that tainted money was being laundered not only financially but also perhaps 'spiritually' in now going to the benefit of the really worthy and needy. Why Sai Baba accepts ill-gotten gains is a question devotees should seriously ask themselves. The aphorism that best answers this seems to be "When money comes, morality goes".
Other money coming in to the Trust and being
accepted is said by a well-informed lady in an important post
with access to inside financial information in Delhi (a defector
from Sai Baba when her innocent son was imprisoned after the murder attempts - a Mrs. D. Saxena, a Customs and Excise Officer) had checked the Central Trust's transactions
and found that sums of money come from 'laundering' of illegal
funds; donors including the known Indian drug- and gun-runner
Dawood Ibrahim, who is a known criminal in hiding somewhere in
the Gulf region! Apparently it's not least a question of buying into prestige. Though approached by the BBC team who made 'The Secret Swami', Mrs. Saxena was too frightened to allow an interview. She has been seriously harassed by top CID officials after the 1993 murders, and her son - who only happened to know Vijay Prabhu, one of those accused of orchestrating the intrusions - was so damaged by the incident he had to be sent to the USA to recover and study there. This information came to me from Mr. V. Ramnath, an IAS officer friend of Mrs. Dolly Saxena.
Sai Baba cleverly disarms visitors and the general public by pretending that that he never stretches out his hand for money, that he has no selfish desires of any kind.He claims that the money one gives (to him) is not for him personally but for the education of his students, the poor, his private hospital etc. His staff soon get rid of anyone who dares to throw any suspicion at all on his financial activities. However, anyone with eyes to see can observe how much is lavished on celebrating him personally at endless festivals, all his birthdays and in building monumental museums etc. to honour him. He personally dispenses cash by hand to various students, to selected devotees, and disaffected students and followers reported his cash gifts, not least to young men who he takes into his private interview room for sexual purposes (such as Alaya Rahm and others who have testified on this). Further, he shows early that he is most interested in individual devotees who he gets interested in donating through ambiguous talk and promises does on occasion ask for donations, both officially in Sanathana Sarathi (eg. for the hospitals, the water project and various disaster relief) and on some private occasions (see here and here). His emphasis on selfless service, plus and continuous claims of his own exemplary leadership in this, causes trusting followers to increase and so does their desire to contribute. Like myself, in common with devotees full of trust and good will, I believed that financial donations are a spiritual secret (as Sai Baba emphasizes) and also a secondary matter (wholly unimportant, if one is to believe him!). This is why I never told a single person that I had made donations, not until I found that there was serious fraud involved, and I was a case in hand.That Sathya Sai Baba accepts a donation is in reality is very important for the would-be donor, since a refusal is taken as a black mark against them (by God!) A rejection (though very seldom reported) can affect contributors who may feel guilt about their wealth when seeing the poor of India etc. and seeing what Sai Baba apparently does and contributes (even though the actual work and contributing is all done by others). Sai Baba's many remarks about shedding the burdens of possessions (of which money is the prime example) as a prerequisite for a righteous (dharmic) life and eventual 'self-realisation' is a powerful pressure on followers to think that they will gain spiritual benefits through shedding their excess properties and monies (particularly to Sathya Sai Central Trust!). Many believe, and rightly so, that donations can lead to interviews. They also hope to get 'divine blessings' in return and even accumulate particular good karma and perhaps even liberation from the wheel of life.
The rich are always milling close around Sai Baba's feet and it is well-known how he gives much of his time to certain millionaire donors, such as Isaac Tigrett and James Sinclair and wife. To reinforce the feeling of the usefulness of contributing money, Sai Baba often underlines that there is absolutely zero waste of funds in his ashrams and his Central Trust. But this I came to my great disappointment to discover in more and more case is completely untrue! Money is often used on projects that fail (such as occurred with a large part of the much-trumpeted Rayalaseema Water Project due to corrupt contractors) or buildings that are soon replaced (eg. the Sai Ramesh Hall at Brindavan) or is embezzled by Sai Baba staff (prime examples are Mr. Suri (see here), Mr. Narayanan, and Mr. Nataraj). Even those who regularly paint the buildings swindle on the quantity and quality of paint, as I learned to my great surprise from a long-serving Seva Dal I came to know very well, a Mr. Krishna Panjwani from Mumbai who was the buyer for the ashram shops for many years... but who left Sai Baba eventually in disgust.
However, Westerners are attracted by the claim that there are no overheads or other drains on what they donate (as is the case with many so-called
voluntary charities have employment costs, publicity costs etc.) However, that is a half-truth at best, for almost everything that is done in India require greasing - bribes, that is. Sai Baba is able to claim that his overheads are very low which is wholly due to the completely voluntary labour of thousands of members of his service organisations like
the Seva Dal and the Sathya Sai Organisation.
I was finally convinced of the fact that the rich purchase time and favours when I saw a couple coming out of Sai Baba's rooms every morning before darshan for over a week while staying at Kodaikanal, having gone in at least half an hour beforehand each day. They were a Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair of USA, who are known as the donors of hundreds of millions of dollars to the Central Trust! Hundreds of millions is correct, it is no misprint, and their donation then (one of several multi-million dollar gifts they made) were announced at Sai Baba's 70th birthday (without their permission) and other of their donations have been written about in Sanathana Sarathi. (Mr. Sinclair's own account of his relation to Sai Baba was published in brief in its pages in the 1990s). The rich and very influential always get virtual red carpet treatment from Sai Baba, which fact cannot be concealed. They may have to wait half an hour, but that is nothing by ashram standards.
There are a variety of other ways of 'buying in'. One is to donate much time and energy to the Organisation while ensuring one rises in the ranks to a high position (this requires obeying supporting everything directed Indulal Shah, whether or not one likes it or can condone it). The payments are in so-called 'donations' for one or another purpose, but they can't put 2 and 2 together to see the connection between money and their privileges. The doctrine has it: 'The money is a gift from the heart to God, the privileges are his grace to their persons'. They sit and can observe a few thousand of their 'brothers and sisters' being crushed together in the darshan lines and invalids standing for ages for a place on the hard 'torture benches' right at the rear of the crowd. All the 'VIPs' have paid a lot for this privilege, one way and another - and usually financially too. The payment is often made in gratitude for something apparently unconnected, but after the privilege has been received. In return, they can also go to the front of any food or shopping queue inside the ashrams, and they do make use of this privilege… even when cripples are waiting in the long line-up! Is this selfless service or self-service? Compassion and ego less behaviour are practiced thus at Prashanti Nilayam!
Another peculiar variant of 'earning one's place' was practiced by some who sat and waited longer than anyone else (countless thousands of hours since the early 1980s) so as to try to obtain a the foremost possible places twice daily at darshan. They were as noticeable as sore thumbs, so often so that Sai Baba could hardly have ignored their tireless zeal at sitting there without seeming heartless. After all, Sai Baba notices who is ever to the fore. (Two such prime examples known to all in the 1980s were both eventually 'blessed' with VIP status too). VIP status, which means they can join a more privileged queue of VIPs, in which they continue to outwait all others so as to get the choice of best places on the veranda before the hundreds of students are also loosed onto the veranda like a pack of hounds. It may seem unbelievable to such persons, but there are those who are too unassuming to struggle for prominence and who really believe in good action unnoticed much more than outward appearances.The obsessively persistent foreign devotee, if humbly obedient, is sometimes given a free apartment by Sai Baba, which is looked on by the more deluded as the sign of great blessedness! One such person brazenly defrauded a fellow devotee by failing to honour a signed contract, (I have seen all the proof) but constantly received favours from Sai Baba nonetheless. This was another way in which I learned that sheer dishonesty and an offensive ego are no hindrance to much attention and close physical proximity to Sai Baba. This is one of Sai Baba's many ways of binding certain people to himself, men who are unquestioning but useful parts of the propaganda machine, such as by translating his discourses. Firmly woven into the ever-more enveloping social and ideological web, such a person eventually loses the means to see anything except through Sai Baba glasses... automatically putting all such comment as here down to ego, jealousy or what not, without knowing anything of the real state of affairs. Unfortunately, this kind of blank prejudice has to be pointed out for the good of the unwary.
Bhagavantam, Tidemann-Johannesen and Baba's favouring of the wealth
India's famous atomic scientist, Dr. Naresh?. Bhagavantam, who had been a simultaneous translator of Baba's discourses for years, left Sai Baba early in the 1980s after over 20 years of being close to Sai Baba and attending hundreds of interviews etc., and he reportedly told devotees that this was not least because far too much attention was given by Sai Baba to wealthy foreign and Indian devotees, powerful politicians and the like, and especially those willing to donate funds, to whom he said that Baba most often gave rings, amulets and suchlike. Critics of Sai Baba may take all this as proof that Bhagavantam was right about Baba mostly only making himself available to those who are likely to give money and rewarding them with more rings and the like than others. One cannot cross-check the facts here, for no one keeps any kind of register of who received what. Bhagavantam is on record saying that Baba's powers and materialisations were genuine (on the 'Who Is Sai Baba' video). However, defenders of Sai Baba spread the rumour that Bhagavantam because of envy, that he wanted to be Vice-Chancellor of the University, when Gokak was chosen instead - and because his son was by-passed for some envied position. This only sounded like an attempt to nullify Bhagavantam's being critical of Sai Baba's activities with the standard Sai Baba formula applied to those who speak out about their doubts, especially when they leave Sai Baba... namely 'jealousy and envy due to not getting what they want'. I figure it is unlikely in a person of Bhagavantam's calibre - a genuine VIP and semi-hero in India (for successfully duplicating the atomic bomb for India), an elderly man with very considerable self-confidence and social support, would be above such considerations and would not have reacted in such a way. Voicing dissent is not a possible choice for otherwise confirmed devotees and was doubtless hard enough for the semi-sceptic like Bhagavantam to do too after so many years of residence. Had he wanted to continue serving Sai Baba, he of all prestigious Indian public figures would surely not have left in an alleged fit of jealousy at not getting some Sai-prestigious post!
A very rich Norwegian ship owner with a company in Bombay, the Norwegian, Alfred Tidemann-Johannesen, was cultivated by Sai Baba during the 1970s. Nothing has been heard since Kasturi and others wrote up glowing accounts of his supposed devotion to Sai Baba. This person glows by his absence from all subsequent literature! He too became disillusioned and left Sai Baba quite early on and, according to a lady in our Oslo group who knew him and last met him around 1988 when he visited Norway from Mexico. He was then writing a book denouncing Sai Baba, whom he claimed he was a deceiver. He told that Sai Baba had failed in his promises, and had deceived him about the helicopter that Tidemann-Johannessen claims to have provided to Sai Baba for travel purposes and, not least, giving darshan at his 55'th birthday. (A film showing this darshan was made and distributed by Richard Bock of California). Tidemann-Johannesen died in 2001, having written a long, rambling book (unpublished) in which he denounced Sai Baba. The biography of Sai Baba has. of course, not been amended or commented on officially in any way. The myth of the great luck of this foreign devotee - and the doubtless overblown interpretations of events by the poetic Kasturi - have to live on unaltered.
There are admittedly doubtless many persons without large funds - or even much willingness to contribute anything financially or in kind - who get to interviews and who even receive materialisations from Baba, but this does not alter the observable drift of Sai Baba's affairs towards massive funding, great expenses to promote his person, plus wasteful projects and embezzlements which no one can gain full information about. One clearly observable fact supporting this are the ladies who usually occupy the first couple of front lines at darshans. They are preponderantly Indians, and are mainly dressed in very expensive silk saris and are loaded with jewelry, far more so than the average Indian can be. Some are rich foreigners who adopt Indian fashions, such as the Iranian princess and her relatives often seen there. Such persons can be seen to be go up for interviews much more often than those in simple clothing. They are seated in the front lines well before those who have queued up for hours are allowed in to find a place.
What is the difference between the accumulation of massive funds in Baba's case and those of other major Indian gurus? It is that much money is visibly put to very good use? Admittedly, it seems indisputable to unbiased observers that some considerable amounts have been siphoned off by more or less corrupt persons, wasted on excellent new buildings that were demolished (eg. .... Mantap, the library building inaugurated as the Kasturi Reading Room) or entirely rebuilt within a few years (Whitefield's Sai Ramesh Hall of 1993, pulled down and rebuilt ) and also charming older buildings (such as the mansion at Brindavan) . It is virtually taboo within the movement to suggest anything that goes against Baba's frequent declarations in discourses that "not a naia paise is wasted" (i.e. "naia paise' = the smallest of Indian coins worth practically nothing at all today). One need hardly also mention the 20 kg. gold cup worth 10 million rupees presented to the winners of the Unity Cricket Cup arranged by Sai Baba at Puttaparthi, nor the more than 22 individual 2 kg. kg solid silver cups given to each player... there are many such luxury undertakings with donor money. The massively expensive show buildings either celebrating or providing alternative housing for Sai Baba himself (The Eternal Heritage Museum, the Chaitanya Jyothi, Dharmakshetra, Trayee Brindavan and others) were all funded by devotees' money.
All Sai Baba trust funds and social institutions are opaque. No one except the minions of Sai Baba has access to the data about them, their finances, their selection or admission criteria. The atmosphere of secrecy and 'unspoken answers' is quite claustrophobic to anyone who wants to find out or check anything about their workings. Therefore, any general claims can be made, any statistics concocted, without there being any means to check - let alone cross-check or investigate independently - anything about the insiders' decision making. Any financial investigator would have little more to go on than what Sai Baba or his officials choose to say.
Who directs the soliciting of money for the Sai Org.? In this connection, when Sai Baba asked Central Coordinator for Japan, Hira, ' Who is your guru?' Hira answered 'You, Swami'. "No!" said Sai Baba "It is Indulal Shah!" (Hira reported this himself in some material which was circulated internally in the Sai Org.). Who is Indulal Shah to be a 'guru' for Hira? Well, he is the Chief Accountant of the Central Trust, a Maharastran ex-politician 'godfather' with sworn follower families throughout the international Maharastra diaspora, many of whom crave office as Sai Org. leaders, national chairmen, coordinators etc. (too often for the sake of status). Shah nominates his cronies to many posts. He scotched Sai Baba's attempt to disband the Sai Org. and sack him totally in 1989 or so by getting his many cronies to send reports to him, (not to the ineffective Hejmadi at Central Office as Sai Baba laid down). T. Meyer of Denmark is Shah's right-hand man in Europe, as is Hira in Japan. With Shah's signature and backing, Hira became the chief international promoter of the scandalous 'currency of love' share investment scheme in the late 90s. He toured USA pressing leaders and devotees to buy in (Rita and Robert Bruce told me this and how they hated it!). The investors paid in foreign currency for investment in rupees on the Bombay Stock Exchange. They were guaranteed 5% return on their money, while the rest (supposedly 5% or more at the time) would go to the Central Trust. Not only did many investors lose though the regular devaluations of the rupees, but there were problems if one wanted to export the money from India due to their strict currency and anti-profit restrictions.It turned out to be a financial fiasco and devotees were then asked to sign over their shares to the Central Trust. Whether anyone ever got a refund of any money is not known (it is definitely 'not done' to mention - let alone complain about - such things in the Sai Organisation, of course, for it might reflect badly on the unstoppable, victorious Divine Mission!)
Criminal donors etc.
In his task of reforming humanity, Sai Baba increasingly draws in not only good people but also the indifferent and the bad. This is more evident with public figures since about 1990, for he is now interviewing Indian power-brokers, including embezzlers and Mafia-connected politicians. A reliable informant, a good and tried person of many years' ashram experience, related what Swami recently said to a lady at an interview. When asked why he allows so many bad persons to occupy positions and receive what seems to be or most people regard as 'Grace' (i.e. his physical presence) etc., he replied that at the foot of a lighted candle there is darkness. Other money coming in to the Trust and being accepted is said by a well-informed lady in an important post with access to inside financial information in Delhi (whose identity cannot be revealed for security reasons) had checked the Central Trust's transactions and found that sums of money come from 'laundering' of illegal funds; donors including the drug- and gun-runner Dawood Ibrahim, who are known criminals! Apparently it's a question of buying into prestige.
On Sai Baba's 70th birthday, when the extensive Rayaleseema project to provide water to a considerable area of villages around the ashram, major donations to it were announced from the podium by Mr. Srinivas of the Central Trust of the Sathya Sai Organisation. These totalled many millions of dollars, large sums coming from various devotees from such countries as the USA and Japan. It was noticeable also that the names included the contributions of Bhangarappa, a known corrupt Karnataka politician, who gave 1 crore of rupees, and two famous Indian 'liquor barons' - which means illegal operators - one of whom, Mr. Reddy, was murdered in Madras only a week or so later. The morning that the news of Reddy being shot dead arrived, V.K. Narasimhan came over and told me about it, for earlier he had recounted for me how he had been taken by Sai Baba in his car to visit the same Mr. Reddy in his palatial residence some months previously. Reddy had told Sai Baba that he wanted to get out of politics and other (criminal) involvements, which wish was anyhow now fulfilled definitively! Other money coming in to the Trust and being accepted is said by a well-informed lady (who has actually checked the books, being in a Gov't administrative position) to come from 'laundering' of illegal funds; some donors are known criminals! Apparently it's a question of buying into prestige. Anyhow, we can hope that that by tainted money now going to the benefit of the really worthy and needy, it becomes pure!