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New allegations surface against Nova Scotia-based Buddhist leader

Last Updated Jul 11, 2018 at 5:40 pm EDT

The spiritual leader of one of the largest Buddhist movement's in the western world is facing fresh sexual misconduct allegations as a Halifax law firm prepares to launch an investigation into claims against him. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, centre right, is followed by Princess Tseyang Palmo as they participate in a Tibetan Buddhist purification ceremony to mark the beginning of a three-day wedding festival in Halifax on Thursday, June 8, 2006. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

HALIFAX – The spiritual leader of one of the largest Buddhist organizations in the western world is facing fresh sexual misconduct allegations as a Halifax law firm prepares to launch an independent investigation into claims against him.

A Chilean woman alleges Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche dragged her into a bathroom, groped her and tried to remove her clothes during a dinner party in Santiago, Chile, in 2002.

The unnamed woman came forward with her account of the alleged incident after multiple women accused the Shambhala International leader of sexual misconduct in a report published last month.

Her claims are included in a new memo by Carol Merchasin, a lawyer who oversaw a preliminary investigation into the initial claims against the Halifax-based Buddhist leader.

The unnamed woman says she was working as an assistant cook at a dinner party when a Mipham, who was described as “visibly drunk,” invited the staff to join the gathering while he read poetry.

According to Merchasin’s memo, released Wednesday, he took her hand and dragged her to a bathroom, where he locked the door and prevented her from leaving.

“He groped her breasts and began trying to remove her clothes,” says Merchasin’s report, which is based on interviews with the woman and a corroborating witness. “He forced her hand to his genitals, even though she told him ‘no’ several times.”

After roughly 15 minutes, she says she managed to push Mipham away from the door, unlocked it and escaped.

She says she immediately described the alleged assault to the cook, and the next day she says she spoke about the incident to a person who was travelling with the Shambhala leader.

That person, referred to as a corroborating witness, was able to confirm the story the woman first recounted in 2002, Merchasin said.

“I found this woman very credible,” she said. “She reached out immediately after the incident to others, telling them the same story.”

The allegations follow Mipham’s alleged “patterns of behaviour” detailed in the report last month, Merchasin said.

In that report, by former Shambhala community member Andrea Winn, several women accuse him of heavy drinking and using his attendant to “procure women students for his own sexual gratification.”

None of the allegations has been proven in court and no charges have been laid.

Mipham’s lawyer said he received the new report and was reviewing it.

“For the moment, and so as not to interfere with the independent investigation, my client will not be offering any comment at this time,” Michael Scott said in an email.

However, Mipham said in a letter Tuesday that he takes responsibility for the pain the Buddhist community is experiencing.

“I feel a tremendous amount of sorrow for the pain, confusion, and anger that our (community) is experiencing,” he said.

The spiritual leader has stepped back from his duties pending the outcome of a third-party investigation.

The Kalapa Council, the leadership body of the Shambhala organization and its more than 200 meditation centres worldwide, will also be stepping down through a “phased departure.”

A source close to the organization confirmed that Wickwire Holm has been contracted to conduct the third-party investigation into claims of harm against any Shambhala teacher, including Mipham.

A lawyer with Wickwire Holm did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The report on Mipham’s alleged sexual misconduct came after a report in February detailed alleged abuse in the Buddhist community.

Winn, who says she was a victim of sexual abuse as a child growing up in the Shambhala community, said the first report alleged decades of sexualized violence.

It also encouraged women to come forward with allegations against the spiritual leader, she said.

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