Conductor Denies Role in Solar Temple Deaths as Trial Begins

Grenoble, France, April 18 (Bloomberg) -- Franco-Swiss orchestra conductor Michel Tabachnik denied playing any role in the deaths of 16 members of a doomsday cult whose burned bodies were found in an Alpine forest in 1995, reported The Guardian.

French prosecutors say Tabachnik, 58, was third in the hierarchy of the Order of the Solar Temple after founders Luc Jouret and Joseph di Mambro, and encouraged a ``homicidal dynamic'' among its followers, according to the paper.

Investigators said two cult members administered a sedative to the 14 others and killed each with a single shot to the head, the Guardian report said. The two then arranged the bodies in a star pattern before setting fire to the corpses and themselves. Three children were among the dead.

``I have done absolutely nothing wrong -- I am the scapegoat in this affair,'' the paper quoted Tabachnik as saying at the start of his trial in Grenoble, France, yesterday. A museum has been turned into a courtroom to accommodate spectators.

He was charged with ``participation in a criminal association'' in connection with the deaths, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation Web site. Prosecutors said Tabachnik was closely linked to di Mambro and that the two men drew up documents establishing the sect's ideology.

Di Mambro was among 58 members of the group who died in similar incidents. Investigators said 48 were killed in ``group suicides'' in Switzerland in 1994, while another 10 died in ritualistic killings in Canada in 1994 and 1997, according to the Guardian site.

Members believe suicide leads to rebirth on the star Sirius, and that they must be burned to death, The Guardian said.

Some relatives of the cult's victims believe they were killed by others, who are still at large, the BBC reported.

Tabachnik, a student of Pierre Boulez, has conducted orchestras in Lisbon, Paris, Quebec and Toronto.

Apr/18/2001 13:29 ET

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