Devotees heading back to ashram

temple band

Temple sounds: Members of the Mt Eliza ashram, including leaders Russell Kruckman (also known as Swami Shankarananda and Swamiji) and Devi Ma were at the Shiva Vishnu temple in Carrum Downs in June for chanting and a performance by Melbourne-based “spiritual/world” band Sky of the Heart. Source: Facebook

DESPITE the appointment of receivers, police investigations into alleged sexual assaults and back room negotiations to avoid action under civil law, devotees are again attending Saturday night assemblies at the former headquarters of the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga at Mt Eliza.

The Tower Rd property was not listed as being part of the organisation’s assets when liquidators Worrells Solvency & Forensic Accountants were appointed in April.

As well as facing the possible sale of three residential properties in streets near to the Tower Rd ashram, Shiva Yoga Inc is also the subject of possible action by lawyer Angela Sdrinis.

Another blow to the organisation may also come in the form of a reassessment of the tax free status it has enjoyed since being given the all clear by Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).

“Where there is evidence of serious mismanagement or misappropriation, a persistent or deliberate breach of the ACNC Act, or where vulnerable people or significant charitable assets are at risk, the ACNC will act firmly and quickly,” a spokesperson for the ACNC said last week.

“Where appropriate the ACNC will revoke a charity’s status – taking away access to Commonwealth charity tax concessions, which are administered by the Australian Taxation Office.”

Although unable to comment on specific cases, the spokesperson said the revocation of tax-free status could be backdated to 3 December 2012.

Financial statements for the year ended June 2014 of the tax-exempt Shiva Yoga Inc show $1.38m has been spent improving the ashram building and lists Swami Shankarananda as having loaned the organisation $373,508.

The statements show “retained earnings” of $2.9m.

The ATO has granted Shiva Yoga Inc a tax concession, GST concession, FBT rebate and income tax exemption.

A former member of the ashram has previously told The Times that when filling out an application form seeking tax exemption “we all looked at each other when it came to filling out the marked religion, and then someone said Hindu, so that’s what we put”.

St Kilda lawyer Ms Sdrinis told The Times last week that she had spoken with about 20 men and women formally associated with the ashram over “a variety of issues”, including alleged sexual impropriety by the school’s spiritual leader Russell Kruckman; unpaid wages; taxation issues; whether “people were volunteers or employees”; donations; and donated works.

Ms Sdrinis said she was specifically dealing with allegations by several women of sexual misconduct by Mr Kruckman, who is also known as Swami Shankarananda and Swamiji.

“We are trying to settle out of court.”

Allegations of sexual assault by Mr Kruckman also continue to be investigated by the Seaford-based SOCIT (Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams).

Ms Sdrinis said while she had not spoken with police “the liquidators have been good to deal with”.

In December 2014, Mr Kruckman and the school stunned ashram devotees by issuing statements which in effect admitted he had engaged in “secret sexual relations with a number of women from the ashram community”.

The ensuing shockwaves led to a plummeting of the numbers attending the Saturday night assemblies, or Satsangs, and Mr Kruckman standing down as the school’s spiritual leader.

The assemblies were moved to private homes earlier this year, but are now being held at the Tower Rd ashram which is owned by Mr Kruckman and not Shiva Yoga Inc.

While up to 350 people would attend these weekly assemblies before the scandal broke in late 2014, it appears numbers are now down to about 70.

As previously reported by The Times, liquidator Paul Burness said Shiva Yoga owned three properties near the ashram, two in Petrel Ave and one in Clarendon Close.

They are collectively valued at just under $3 million, although one has a mortgage.

The most valuable property connected to the yoga school, the ashram in Tower Rd, is owned by Mr Kruckman (Swami Shankarananda) and is not subject to the liquidation.

Mr Burness said Swami Shankarananda had placed caveats dated 22 April 2015 on the titles on one of Shiva Yoga’ Petrel Ave properties and the one in Clarendon Close.

A further caveat had been lodged on the title of the Tower Rd property by Shiva Meditation Inc in 2005.

The Times has been unable to contact the ashram for comment. An email sent to spokesman Stephen Stanford was answered by a Vani Hudson who said: “All enquiries regarding Shiva Yoga should be directed to [the liquidator] Paul Burness of Worrells”.

First published in the Frankston Times – 27 July 2015

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