SAN DIEGO — A Thai religious guru who was granted political asylum in the United States last year could face jail and eventually deportation for his involvement in a fatal traffic accident in Minnesota.
Phra Winai Amaropikku, known to most of his followers as Phra Yantra, is accused of running a stop sign near Marshall, Minn., earlier this year and killing a 21-year-old college student.
Minnesota prosecutors have filed a felony charge against the former monk for gross negligence in the June 16 accident that killed University of Minnesota student Annie Hagen. One of Yantra’s passengers was paralyzed in the accident.
“I have not filed charges like this before,” Richard Maes, the Minnesota prosecutor handling the case told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “We have a death here that shouldn’t have occurred and wouldn’t have had the traffic laws been abided by.”
The religious leader said he remembers little of the accident, but doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.
He is recovering from abdominal and leg injuries.
“Accident is accident,” he said. “Maybe karma, who knows? I always ride as careful as possible.”
A hearing on the case is expected in the next month.
It appears that Yantra, who fled his homeland amid allegations of misconduct and defamation, will once again be forced to fight the U.S. government in court.
Yantra’s ministry has interests all over the world, but he currently lives in a Valley Center retreat near his Sunnataram Monastery, about 40 miles northeast of San Diego.
The religious leader was once said to be one of the holiest men in Thailand, and is still revered by followers around the world.
But in 1995, Yantra was accused of violating his vow of celibacy and seducing female followers. He fled Thailand, some allege with a forged passport, and hid in the United States.
Those allegations, plus charges of defamation and bail-jumping were confirmed by the Royal Thai Consulate, according to the Union-Tribune.
The Buddhist monk was arrested by immigration officials in 1996 for allegedly lying on his application for U.S. residency.
INS attorneys tried to deport Yantra for denying he’d been arrested in Thailand, but the religious leader challenged his deportation in court. A San Diego judge ruled that Yantra would face persecution if he was returned to his homeland.
Both Thai and U.S. immigration officials said they would follow the Minnesota case closely.