Doomsday cult leader Tabachnik back in court

Grenoble, France - Franco-Swiss conductor Michel Tabachnik is due to go back on trial in France on Tuesday, four years after he was acquitted of conspiring to brainwash 74 members of the Solar Temple doomsday cult into accepting death by occult ritual.

The 64-year-old musician is now being charged with "criminal conspiracy" in relation to 16 of those cult members, three of them children, whose charred bodies were discovered in the French Alps in 1995.

On June 25, 2001, French judges cleared Tabachnik of the brainwashing charges due to lack of evidence. But prosecutors, which had accused him of playing a key role in convincing cult members willingly to go to their deaths, lodged an appeal.

The new court case, in the southwestern city of Grenoble, was expected to last two weeks.

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

Several of the dead had been shot in the head or asphyxiated in what were apparently ritual murders, although some are thought to have been willing participants in mass suicides.

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

During his trial in 2001, Tabachnik admitted to belonging to the Order of the Solar Temple.

But he denied charges that his writings -- inspired by a mixture of occult, New Age and Rosicrucian theories -- had prepared the way for the cult members' deaths.

Central to the prosecution's case in 2001 was the charge that Tabachnik had taken part in meetings of the Solar Temple, held in France in July and September 1994, at which he "announced the winding-up of the group and the conclusion of its mission".

The judges concluded Tabachnik could have made the announcement to help Jouret and Di Mambro paint the subsequent murders as a spiritual ritual. But the conductor could just as easily have called for the sect to be wound up because his own philosophy had evolved, as expressed in tracts he had written at the time, they ruled.

Born in Geneva in 1942, Tabachnik studied under French conductor Pierre Boulez and earned a reputation for his interpretation of contemporary music, holding orchestral posts in Canada, Portugal and France.