Spiritual leader Juan Percowicz and a box of seized materials from the Yoga School of Buenos Aires. (Photo: Argentina Federal Police)
Police in Argentina arrested 19 people in a massive raid of the famed Yoga School of Buenos Aires—including its 84-year-old founder, Juan Percowicz—alleging it’s actually a “transnational criminal organization” that recruited women into “geisha” apprenticeships to earn points to ascend levels of the group.The Yoga School, which operates in Argentina and at least three U.S. cities — Chicago, New York, and Las Vegas—allegedly used the so-called “geisha” group to engage in sex acts with “people of power” for money and influence. Members who reached the seventh level of “spiritual evolution” in the yoga school would supposedly gain “eternal reincarnation.” At least seven women were allegedly recruited into the group in Argentina, and teenagers and were sexually exploited.
According to prosecutors’ documents outlining the charges that were sent to Interpol, the Yoga School of Buenos Aires “built a cult around its leader” and forced members into “a situation of slavery and/or sexual exploitation.”“The encounters supposed a practice of sexual slavery because the ‘students’ were put at the disposal of the clients at the time and place they wanted, for long periods of time,” according to the police documents.Argentine authorities accused members of the yoga school of being a “sect” that engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy, including the “trafficking in persons for the purpose of reduction to servitude, aggravated coercion, aggravated robbery, money laundering, illicit association, illegal exercise of medicine, irregular sale of medicines, and influence peddling,” in a statement released after the arrests.
In a huge operation carried out alongside the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Argentine federal police raided 50 yoga school locations across Argentina on Aug. 12, seizing over $1 million in cash, gold and silver coins, titles to properties owned by students, cellphones, computers, and a box of VHS porn tapes with names like Squirt Fever, Virgin Treasure Number 1, and The Load.Authorities have now requested that 37 properties and 13 cars also be seized, and four additional arrest warrants have been issued for Yoga School members in the U.S. The U.S. State Department did not respond to requests for more information about their role in the investigation.
Percowicz, who’s somewhat well-known in the New Age medicine space, and his closest followers have faced various allegations for years. In the early 90s, the group faced criminal allegations related to sexual exploitation, before the charges were eventually thrown out.Inspector Ricardo Juri, the head of the Argentine Federal Police human trafficking division behind the investigation, told VICE News that many of the recently arrested “were the same people as 30 years ago.”“Both its leader and the people who accompanied the leader from 30 years ago coincided,” said Juri. “But with the difference that today, in the year 2022, this group has evolved from a yoga school to a company that commits crimes, with different sectors and functions.”Police alleged that the organization worked as a sort of pyramid scheme, where at least 170 members paid monthly fees of $200 to $10,000 or personal property to obtain higher levels within the yoga school. At the top of the seven-level pyramid sits Percowicz, known to his followers as “El Angel” or “El Maestro.” His closest followers are ranked at level six and called apostles, followed by geniuses (Level 5) and pupils (Level 4). The three lowest levels were for ordinary “humans.” Only Percowicz could decide who was able to ascend the levels.
The school also targeted people looking for treatments for diseases and addiction. Police alleged that “under the discourse of ending ‘the evils of AIDS and drugs’ they captured people, defrauded them and reduced them to a situation of servitude.” Members of the group recruited patients, many of which were from the U.S., for a phony New Age treatment at a signless clinic in a suburb of Buenos Aires.Members of the Yoga School would slowly drain members of the group and their patients of their wealth and isolate them from their families. “Their profits from exploiting all these people would be laundered through real estate agencies and a local public notary business belonging to the organization, as well as various foundations established in the United States, thereby generating a steady flow of foreign income for the organization,” according to court documents.Audio provided by investigators to VICE News shows high ranking female members of the Yoga School appearing to conspire with Percowicz to organize a sexual rendezvous with opera singer Plácido Domingo — one of The Three Tenors. “I will have to sacrifice myself once again, I have a great vocation for sacrifice,” the woman tells Percowicz.In a second recording, the same woman can be heard talking with Domingo about how she will sneak up to his hotel room without his entourage noticing. He tells her that “we came separate, so [when we leave], we will do it like that,” before telling her his room number.
A third recording shows the woman and Percowicz confirming that the meeting had been set up and mocking Domingo behind his back.“You’re such a degenerate,” Percowicz tells the woman. “It seems to me that you collaborated a little with this product,” she replies. “He’s screwed, Juan, I’m a bit embarrassed, I don't wish him any harm, but it's so wonderful to see us shining and flying through the skies, and he's screwed up. He told us everything they did to him. Are you excited? I love you so much.”It’s unclear exactly what information Percowicz and the woman are referring to, or when the audios were recorded. Plácido Domingo did not return a request for comment to VICE News, but a law enforcement official speaking to the AP noted that there’s no evidence he committed a crime.“Placido didn’t commit a crime, nor is he part of the organization, but rather he was a consumer of prostitution,” the law enforcement official said. Prostitution is legal in Argentina.