GRENOBLE, France -- A Swiss orchestra conductor believed by prosecutors to have played a key role in a doomsday cult that lost 74 members in ritual mass suicides in France, Switzerland and Canada appeared before a French court yesterday.
Michel Tabachnik, 58, has denied any involvement with the mysterious Order of the Solar Temple cult, but a French investigating magistrate decided last year there was enough evidence to put him on trial.
ASSOCIATION WITH CRIMINALS
Tabachnik is charged with "association with criminals," which carries a 10-year prison term and a fine equivalent to $223,000 Cdn.
Tabachnik has long been suspected of close ties to Joseph Di Mambro, the now-dead leader of the Order of the Solar Temple. The cult lost 58 members in mass suicides in Switzerland and Canada between 1994 and 1997.
French investigators have struggled to make sense of a bizarre 1995 murder-suicide in the French Alps. The charred remains of 14 victims, including three children, were found arranged in a star formation in a forest clearing near Grenoble. The bodies of two other members were found nearby.
Investigators hope that Tabachnik, a free-lance conductor who lives in Paris and had periodically worked in Canada, can tell them more about the mysterious group, whose members believed that suicide instantly transported them to a new world.
Tabachnik founded the Golden Way Foundation with Di Mambro in Geneva during the 1980s. That group later became the Order of the Solar Temple.