Swiss orchestra conductor acquitted in French sect killings trial

Grenoble, France - A French appeals court acquitted a Swiss orchestra conductor Wednesday of charges of criminal involvement in a doomsday cult that lost scores of members in ritual killings in France, Switzerland and Canada.

The court in Grenoble upheld Michel Tabachnik's 2001 acquittal by a lower court.

The new trial produced no new evidence against Tabachnik for his alleged role in the Switzerland-based Order of the Solar Temple cult. Prosecutor Jean-Pierre Melendez did not request a prison term, citing "the difficulty in getting to the truth of Michel Tabachnik."

Tabachnik was accused of contributing to the deaths of members of the cult, which lost 68 members in mass suicides in Switzerland, Canada and France between 1994 and 1995, according to the prosecutor's office. He was suspected of close ties to the cult's leader, Joseph di Mambo, who died in the 1994 suicides.

In one of the killings, French police discovered the charred remains of 14 victims, including three children, in a forest clearing near Grenoble at the foot of the French Alps. The 14 bodies were arranged in a star formation, and two other bodies were found nearby.

Swiss authorities failed to establish any link between the cult and Tabachnik.

Tabachnik has maintained his innocence. In France he had been charged with criminal association, facing a maximum 10-year prison term.

Tabachnik, who studied under conductor Pierre Boulez and composer Iannis Xenakis, has led orchestras in France, Canada and in New York.