Dutch give nod to 'guru currency'

A new "currency" issued by a group founded by Beatles guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi may be used and has not violated Dutch law, the Dutch central bank has said.

The Global Country of World Peace, set up by the Indian mystic, issued the brightly coloured notes of one, five and 10 "raam" last October.

Since then, more than 100 Dutch shops, some of them part of big department store chains, in 30 villages and cities have accepted the notes.

A spokesman for the Dutch Central Bank told BBC News Online the bank was keeping a close eye on the raam, although he added that the Maharishi movement had done everything according to the law.

"The raam can be used as long as the notes are not used as legal tender and it stays within a closed-off circuit of users," he said.

Raam roll-out

The raam is also circulating as the currency of Maharishi Vedic City in the US state of Iowa together with the US dollar, while raam-based bonds are being offered in 35 American states.

Benjamin Feldman, 'Minister of Finance' of the Maharishi movement, told BBC News Online the raam could be used to battle poverty and create world peace.

He said governments could use the raam to start up agricultural and other development projects around the world.

"There are 1.5 billion people living in extreme poverty and currencies like the US dollar are not available to most of them. The raam can be used to build new houses, roads, schools and health clinics," Mr Feldman said.

And after a few good crop seasons, and with export of produce, the raam could then be exchanged for any other, hard, currency or even taken out of circulation, Mr Feldman argued.

He added the raam was introduced in a relatively rich nation like the Netherlands, "because developing countries can use that as an inspiration."

The movement plans a roll-out of the currency "in the European Union and in all continents".

Opticians take the raam

In the Netherlands, the raam notes are accepted in Dutch shops at a fixed rate of 10 euros per raam.

"There are now about 100,000 raam notes in circulation. That is not a lot but we are keeping a close eye on it because it must never lead to confusion for the public," the Dutch central bank spokesman said.

Pearle Opticians in the southern Dutch town of Roermond started accepting the raam notes three weeks ago.

"We have a lot of clients in the movement and we did it as a service to them. But so far, only one person has actually paid with it," a Pearle shop manager said.

Shopkeepers can exchange their raam notes at the Fortis Bank branch in Roermond.

The Beatles

Mr Maharishi introduced his "transcendental meditation" methods to the West more than 40 years ago.

Since then, he has built up a following of about six million people.

His most famous followers were the Beatles, who travelled to India in 1968 to meditate with him.