ROBERT MENDICK CHIEF REPORTER Newspaper Article re Prem Rawat aka Guru Maharaj Ji

31 May 2007
The Evening Standard
© 2007 Associated Newspapers. All rights reserved

The former head of a religious cult is involved in raising funds for this year's Lord Mayor's appeal.

Prem Rawat, who has acquired vast wealth after years of being worshipped by millions of followers, is listed as a 'key supporter' to the annual appeal, the Evening Standard can reveal.

Tomorrow Mr Rawat will give a speech to dignitaries and adherents at an invitation-only event at Guildhall in exchange for donating £25,000 to this year's fund.

The money will go to a series of good causes including the international charity VSO.

Mr Rawat's involvement has raised eyebrows. Formerly known as the Guru Maharaj Ji, he enjoyed huge support in the Seventies and Eighties as spiritual leader of The Divine Light Mission, a religious cult which set up communes across the world.

Mr Rawat, 49, was known to his disciples as the 'Lord of the Universe' and considered a descendant of God. He was a teenager when he first came to the UK from India in 1971, but fell out with his mother and other cult members when at 16 he married one of his students, a 25-year-old American.

Mr Rawat, who has since gone on to form the Élan Vital educational charity and the Prem Rawat Foundation, is understood to be flying into Britain from his Malibu home for tomorrow's event. Ian Haworth, of the Cult Information Centre, said today: 'This is a group about which we are concerned. We have received complaints over the years and it is one we are familiar with.' Former disgruntled followers of Mr Rawat - 'premies' - accuse the guru of funding his lifestyle with their donations, a claim vigorously denied by Mr Rawat's supporters.

He lives in a Californian mansion, is said to own a number of expensive cars and a multi-million-dollar yacht.

The City of London said Lord Mayor John Stuttard had left the vetting of donations to VSO, the charity which sends volunteers to work in the developing world. A VSO spokeswoman said: 'Prem Rawat Foundation approached us earlier this year because they wanted to support the Lord Mayor's Appeal.

'Due to shared development goals they had pledged a donation of £25,000 towards the appeal which is going to support VSO's work in Mozambique. Obviously when deciding to accept or refuse donations we apply our ethical fund-raising policy. This donation has been subject to that policy.'

She added: 'It is very rare we would refuse money.'

According to its website, the Prem Rawat Foundation is 'dedicated to advancing the lectures, speeches, writings, art, music, humanitarian efforts, and public forums of Prem Rawat'. The Foundation lists initiatives in developing countries.

A spokesman for Élan Vital, a charity to support his teachings and works, said any suggestion he had profited from members' donations was 'ludicrous'. The spokesman added: 'There is no question of it [the Guildhall event] being used in any way to raise money or recruit. This is about raising money for the Lord Mayor's appeal. It is ludicrous to think there will be anything else going on.'