BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Opera star Plácido Domingo’s name surfaced in an investigation of a cult-like organization in Argentina that also had offices in the United States and whose leaders have been charged with crimes, including sexual exploitation.
Domingo, the Spanish opera singer who has faced accusations of sexual harassment by numerous women over the last three years, has not been charged with any crime in the Argentina case.
“Placido did not commit a crime, nor is he part of the organization, but rather he was a consumer of prostitution,” said a law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation continues. Prostitution is not illegal in Argentina.
Law enforcement officials have carried out dozens of raids in Buenos Aires against the Buenos Aires Yoga School, which “built a cult around its leader” and reduced members to “a situation of slavery and/or sexual exploitation.” , according to documents from prosecutors in the Argentine case against the school.
The organization set up a commercial structure that included offices in Argentina and the United States, including branches in at least three American cities: Las Vegas, Chicago and New York.
So far, 19 people have been arrested in Argentina, while at least three suspects are believed to remain at large inside the South American country and four are being sought in the United States.
Domingo has not spoken publicly about the latest developments and his representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Wiretaps that were part of the judicial investigation recorded conversations in which a man authorities identify as Domingo spoke with a member of the group, identified as Susana Mendelievich, about meeting the opera star while he was in Buenos Aires for a meeting. concert series. in April.
Research into the sect has implicated people with connections to the world of classical music and who performed with Domingo in the past, including Mendelievich, an Argentine pianist.
Mendelievich is alleged to be the person in charge of the organization’s sexual exploitation activities, according to a judicial official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
In a recording, the man identified as Domingo talks with Mendelievich about how he can get up to his hotel room without being detected by his staff.
“When we leave dinner we come separately, right?” says the man identified as Domingo on the recording.
Mendelievich then talks to Juan Percowicz, 84, who was the suspected leader of the group.
“He already called me and arranged the deal so I can stay at his hotel tonight without his agents noticing,” she said.
In an earlier call with Percowicz, Mendelievich hints that he had previously met with Domingo in New York.
“Among other things… Placido said he could come visit us. I mean, visiting us means coming to visit me because he comes to my house in New York, and that reminded me of yesterday,” the woman identified as Mendelievich is heard saying in the recording.
Trafficking and sexual exploitation were the main sources of income for the group, which had an estimated income of around $500,000 a month, according to the judicial official.
The Buenos Aires Yoga School had numerous groups of women who were forced to have sexual encounters in exchange for money, prosecutors allege. At least seven women were incorporated into the group when they were still children or adolescents and were sexually exploited, according to documents from the prosecution.
People came from the United States to Argentina to have sex with the women, and researchers say the women were also transported to neighboring Uruguay and the United States for sexual encounters.
“The encounters amounted to a practice of sexual slavery because the ‘students’ were made available to clients whenever and wherever they wanted, for long periods of time,” according to the documents.
The organization had links to other well-known public figures and their names should be made public once the accusations are made official, the judicial official added.
In addition to alleged sexual exploitation, the group allegedly sold treatments, including what were known as “sleep cures,” which consisted of giving people drugs that would put them to sleep for days.
Percowicz, along with other members of the group, has been arrested by order of Judge Ariel Lijo, who seized dozens of properties and vehicles.
The organization had approximately 179 students, all classified in seven levels. Advancing levels implied a “spiritual evolution” with the aim of reaching the seventh level that implied “eternal reincarnation”.
In order to advance, members had to participate in numerous courses and complete assignments, with Percowicz having the final say on who could advance. The process involved socially isolating members of his “biological family” and friends, according to charging documents.
The organization also offered “philosophical training” courses through a separate company, the BA Group, for those who had not yet joined the school. These courses on topics like “personal happiness” and “leadership” were often used to attract new members.
The organization was previously under judicial investigation in the early 1990s, but the investigation was closed before coming to trial.
Domingo, now 81, was one of opera’s biggest and most successful stars and is the only living member of The Three Tenors, which included the late Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras.
Domingo’s image was tarnished in the United States after more than 20 women accused him, in reports published by The Associated Press, of sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct in encounters that took place from the late 1980s to the 1980s. 2000. Dozens more in the classical music world told the AP that his behavior was an open secret in the industry.
Investigations by the American Guild of Musical Artists and the Los Angeles Opera, where Domingo had served as general director, found the sexual harassment allegations against him to be credible.
The accusations and subsequent findings brought Domingo’s career to a halt in the US, but he has continued to perform in Europe and Latin America. Her website says that she is currently on tour in Mexico with shows scheduled for later this month in Italy.
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed to this report.
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