APwa 12/15 1455 Rajneesh Conspiracy By BRIAN S. AKRE Associated Press Writer PORTLAND, Or

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APwa 12/15 1455 Rajneesh Conspiracy By BRIAN S. AKRE Associated Press Writer PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A lawyer for Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh claims the federal government poisoned the Indian guru in 1985 as part of a conspiracy to force him out of the United States. Swami Prem Niren, who served as Rajneesh's chief attorney during the rise and fall of the Rajneeshpuram commune in central Oregon, said Monday that Rajneesh believes he was poisoned in late 1985 while he was in an Oklahoma City jail. Rajneesh, 56, recently has been ill, and doctors concluded his symptoms were consistent with thallium poisoning, Niren said in a telephone interview. However, he said tests found no trace of the rare, poisonous element in Rajneesh. Veet Mano, director of the Rajneesh Press Services in Los Angeles, charged in a news release received Monday by The Associated Press that "the United States government conspired to murder Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh." Niren said, however, there was no evidence of that. "That is an unfortunate phrase," he said. "It's one of those things. PR people say things different than lawyers do." Rajneesh now lives in Poona, India, where his movement was based before he moved to a remote, 64,000-acre Oregon ranch in 1981. He was deported in November 1985 after he pleaded guilty to immigration fraud in a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. Rajneesh has been suffering for the past two months from nausea, fatigue, pain in his extremities and a lack of resistence to infection, and was near death for a while, Niren said. An Indian health official said recently that Rajneesh had AIDS, but his disciples say a test proved the claim was false. Rajneesh first experienced poisoning symptoms after a meal in a jail in Oklahoma City, leading him to believe he was poisoned, Niren said. Niren said he does not believe jailers in Oklahoma City were responsible for the alleged poisoning. He speculated the CIA was involved. "Of course, years after the event I don't expect anyone in the government or anywhere else to come forward and say, `I'm responsible for it,"' Niren said. Rajneesh, who was arrested in Charlotte, N.C., in October 1985 while allegedly trying to flee the United States, was held overnight in Oklahoma City while being taken back to Oregon to face criminal charges. Niren, who said he is writing a book about his experiences with the Rajneesh movement and the commune's legal battles, said the government never had evidence linking Rajneesh to any crimes. Niren said he recommended Rajneesh accept the plea bargain that led to his deportation because of concerns over the guru's health. "Otherwise the government persecution would continue and he couldn't take it," he said. "They intended to persecute him until he left or was broken." Charles H. Turner, the U.S. attorney who led the prosecution of Rajneesh and several of his lieutenents, dismissed Niren's allegations today. "It's a total and complete fiction and you have to consider the source," Turner said. "The man has no credibility." Turner noted that a federal judge determined that Rajneesh had committed crimes, and the guru was represented by "three extremely skilled lawyers," including Niren. If Niren had recommended Rajneesh plead guilty to a crime he did not commit, the attorney could be disbarred, Turner said. Rajneesh also had access to any medical care he needed while he was in jail, Turner added. "I stood next the man in court and there wasn't anything wrong with him at all," he said. The commune disbanded after Rajneesh's departure and the property remains for sale. Rajneesh, a self-described "rich man's guru," teaches meditation as a means to enlightenment. Niren, also known as Philip J. Toelkes, said he traveled after the commune broke up and has been practicing law in San Francisco.


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