Michael Gerard, 23, first heard about the guru Ozen online in August 2014, when he was searching for a cure to his depression.
The tall, thin student from Germany with an interest in science and politics had a diagnosis of agoraphobia and a history of suicidal thoughts. A friend described him as one of the brightest people at a boarding school they attended together. Family said Gerard badly wanted a girlfriend, but was struggling with dating.
By then, he was already a follower of Osho, the controversial spiritual leader who had built communes in India and Oregon and was featured in the popular Netflix series Wild Wild Country. Because of Osho, who died in 1990, Gerard had become a vegan, and had started meditating and practising yoga.
That day in August, he ran to his mom, laptop in hand, exclaiming that he had found a disciple of Osho, and begged her to let him go to Mexico.
The Osho disciple is named Ozen Rajneesh or Swami Rajneesh, and his legal name is Rajnish Agarwal.
In his book Tears of the Mystic Rose, Ozen claims to be the successor of Osho, writing that when the original guru died, his spirit entered him.
When Gerard found him online, Ozen and roughly two dozen followers were in the middle of building a massive ashram in the Mexican jungle, a 35-minute drive down a rough dirt road from the coastal resort town of Playa del Carmen. Drone footage shows massive concrete structures emerging from the forest canopy, arranged in a circle around a deep cenote. There was an art centre, a restaurant, a Buddha meditation hall, and dozens of cottages and studios. Wood pathways wound through the jungle connecting the buildings, and swans and peacocks roamed the property. The guru called it OZEN Cocom, after a Mayan dynasty that previously controlled the Yucatán Peninsula.
Ozen told his followers the Mexican commune would offer Osho-like meditations for free, unlike Osho International Foundation, in Pune, India, which charges $700 US to $2,200 US a month.
He immediately reached out to Ozen, telling him he was depressed, had a history of suicidal thoughts, and was desperate to join the commune.
According to emails between Gerard and Ozen, Ozen told him if he wanted to visit the commune, he had to buy a cottage. It would cost between $16,000 US and $33,000 US, and $5,000 US cash to reserve one. They were selling fast. Gerard said his mother had doubts, but the guru assured him that Ozen Cocom was a legally-registered non-profit with a board of directors and shareholders.
Gerard flew to Mexico on April 11, 2015, with about 400 euros (about $450 US). It’s unclear if he ever put any money down for a cottage. Ozen did not respond when we asked if Gerard gave him money.
When Gerard arrived, he volunteered to work construction, without pay. In emails to his mom, Gerard said people at the ashram were nice to him, and they often went dancing on weekends. “Mom, I cannot express how deeply you were mistaken,” he wrote. He asked her to send him money, saying everyone was investing in the project. She transferred 60 euros (about $70 US) into his account every month, but he asked for more.
In September, four months after he started working on the commune, Gerard told other residents he had reached enlightenment. But it was short-lived. Soon after, residents say Gerard locked himself in his cottage and refused to come out for days.
The next thing his fellow residents heard was that Gerard had left his cottage and walked alone into the dark, dense jungle.
No one has seen him since.
Michael’s story is one of many that have former followers raising the alarm about Ozen.
A VICE investigation has uncovered more than a dozen followers around the world who have defected from the guru, accusing him of being a “fake” who is not really enlightened.
VICE spoke to seven people who allege Ozen convinced them to send tens of thousands of dollars each as donations in exchange for cottages in a spiritual community. They say they asked for refunds, but years later haven’t been paid back. One person filed a fraud complaint against Ozen to Indian police but no charges were laid and Ozen has denied the allegations.
In recent years, allegations against Ozen have surfaced on social media and on a website created by a former follower. In response, Ozen created his own website that says a handful of disgruntled ex-followers have decided to attack him with false allegations.
On his website, Ozen calls any allegations of fraud “absurd and fabricated lies.” He says he owes 21 people a total of $169,000 US and plans to pay them back.
Other former followers say they volunteered to work construction on his Mexico project without pay because he claimed he was building a non-profit ashram in Osho’s name that would offer free meditations.
Today, Ozen and his followers live in Mexico at what is now called Ozen Rajneesh Resort. Independent yoga companies are charging people up to $1,500 to attend retreats there, and in a 2018 letter, Ozen describes the resort as a “hotel business.”
When I reached out to him, Ozen said he had suddenly been hospitalized and couldn’t answer my questions, but he continued to send frantic WhatsApp messages for days. He said the real story was that his Icelandic model ex-girlfriend was trying to murder him, accused me of being “a fraud or hacker” and colluding with a former member to take him down, and repeatedly referred me to his website.
Ozen did not answer my questions about whether the resort’s current iteration is consistent with his original vision. He says on his website that 8,000 people have visited his Mexico resort and more than 200 volunteers helped build his “dream project.” The resort’s Facebook page has a 4.9 out of 5 star rating with about 300 positive reviews.
Former followers are also questioning Ozen’s actions after Gerard’s disappearance. Two former residents allege Ozen told them to lie and say Gerard went to Tulum after he went missing, because Ozen told them people were working without valid visas and an investigation would compromise the survival of the resort. Gerard’s mother is also accusing police agencies of failing to search for her son.
On his website, Ozen strongly denies allegations that he tried to “cover up” Gerard’s disappearance, and says the last he heard from Gerard, the young man had travelled to nearby Tulum.
The Osho of the social media generation
To understand who Ozen is, you must understand who Osho was.
An Indian man with a long white beard and gentle smile, Osho, aka Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, said he reached enlightenment in 1953. His followers believed he was a second Buddha. He said any of his followers could reach enlightenment.
Osho hosted meditation camps in the 1960s in India. He rejected orthodox religions, but wanted to create a “religionless religion.” He published books in favour of capitalism and open sexuality, leading to his nickname “the sex guru.”
Near the end of the Vietnam War, Osho founded an ashram in Pune, India, attracting many young Westerners who were skeptical of the U.S. government and mainstream culture. Osho said his technique, Dynamic Meditation, would help them break ingrained patterns in their minds. By breathing rapidly, shaking, jumping and screaming, they would arouse Kundalini, a force coiled like a snake at the base of the spine.
In the early 1980s, Osho built a new 64,000-acre commune in the rugged, rolling hills of Antelope, Oregon, a town of 50 people. At its height, 7,000 American and European hippies and wealthy Indians wearing red robes lived in the Oregon commune, and donated funds toward its construction. The commune incorporated as its own city in May 1982. A coalition of landowners took the commune to court, and petitioned the governor to expel its residents.
In 1984, ahead of a county election, a group of Osho’s followers poisoned about 700 town residents by contaminating salad bars with salmonella, hoping their own candidates would win. Two of Osho’s followers were later convicted of attempted murder for the stunt. They also plotted to murder Oregon’s state attorney who was investigating the food poisoning alongside cases of fake marriages at the commune.
The investigation led to two convictions of immigration fraud against Osho, and prompted the U.S. to kick him out of the country. He returned to India, and died of heart failure at his ashram in Pune in 1990 at age 58.
Today, his Pune ashram is owned by Osho International Foundation, made up of members of Osho’s inner circle, and continues to attract followers.
Ozen says he picked up where Osho left off.
Ozen looks just like his master. He too has a long beard, walks slowly, and speaks softly. He is often shirtless with a red sarong tied around his waist. He says he resembles his master because he is a vessel for Osho’s spirit. “My love for my master is so deep, has grown so vast in me, that my form is also responding and becoming like him,” he said in a 2013 video.
Born in Calcutta in 1960, Ozen wrote about his beginnings and his path to being Osho’s successor in his 2008 book Tears of the Mystic Rose. He described his father as a money-hungry businessman, while his mother was a Bollywood actress and homemaker.
Ozen wrote that he knew he was special. As a young man, he dreamed of “a long-bearded person looking at me with compelling magnetic eyes.” Then he saw Osho’s face on a magazine cover. In 1981 he decided to follow Osho as a disciple.
When Osho was arrested in 1985, Ozen claimed that Osho appeared to him in a vision and told him he needed to reach enlightenment—which he said he did, after three months of meditation. That’s when he started to take on the characteristics of Osho. He also publicly changed his given name from Rajnish to Rajneesh.
Ozen wrote he was at the Pune ashram on January 19, 1990, when Osho died. When Osho’s spirit left his body, Ozen claimed his spirit was “reborn” into him. In the days following Osho’s death, he said the original guru’s closest devotees started recognizing him as their master, but the ashram kicked him out because they believed he was impersonating Osho.
For his part, Ozen has been critical of his master while presenting himself as a more monastic figure than Osho; he said he doesn’t drink coffee, prefers weed and ayahuasca to alcohol, and practised celibacy for years. In his bio on his website, he wrote that he didn’t agree with Osho’s large collection of Rolls Royces or his “unaccountable wealth with no transparency.” He also disagreed with Osho International Foundation “exploiting seekers” by charging a fee for meditations.
It’s not clear exactly what Ozen got up to in the 15 to 20 years after Osho died. In one bio, he said after reaching enlightenment he spent 12 years in silence in the Himalayas. In another bio, he said it was nine years, and that he travelled the world for a company, earned $300,000 a year, and became an internationally recognized designer.
In 2007, Ozen started hosting Dynamic Meditations in small groups that grew into a “world tour.” This is when followers say he started recruiting them to buy cottages at his commune. In 2010, he purchased a 50-acre property in Goa, India, where he said he would build a not-for-profit ashram offering free Osho meditations. Many former followers were drawn in by his social justice message.
Jivan Ranjita from Spain believed Ozen was Osho’s successor who didn’t want to make money off spirituality.
“We all love Osho; it’s about Osho,” she said. “It was as if Osho was speaking through him, and he looks like him.”
Ranjita said she sent him money in exchange for a cottage in Goa.
Facebook messages from 2013 show Ozen confirmed he received $13,640 US from her. He later told her the price of the cottage was higher than he first said, $17,400 US, and that she now owed him more money, including thousands more for solar batteries and furniture. She said she didn’t send him any more money.
Ivan Aleksandrovich Seregin, a Russian DJ, also attended Ozen’s world tour and believed in his message of free Osho meditations. He visited the Goa land on Ozen’s invitation. “But there was nothing there, just pure nature,” he said. “They had built a road, but that was it.” He said he paid 13,000 euros for a Goa cottage in 2011 (about $17,000 US). Facebook messages show Ozen confirmed he received 777,000 Indian rupees (about $15,000 US) from Seregin. (The exchange rate fluctuated a lot that year, and Seregin says he paid in instalments.)
During a ceremony, Seregin alleges Ozen screamed at a young woman because she wasn’t preparing flowers fast enough for a ritual. This led him to think Ozen was not really enlightened, and he asked for a refund.
According to Facebook messages, Ozen responded that the money was not in his personal account, but in a land development fund. He said he could refund Seregin, but would keep 35 percent because “it is complex in India for foreign exchange transfers.” Seregin said Ozen never sent the refund. Ozen did not respond to questions from VICE about Seregin’s money.
The Economic Times, an India-based English-language news outlet, reported that Ozen’s 45-acre plan included 40 cottages, a 40-room guest house, kitchens, a bakery, massage/wellness spas, a swimming pool, a martial arts school, medical and banking centres, and a silence zone.
News reports from March 2011 say the Goa project sparked protests before it even got off the ground. At a village council meeting, locals demanded that the council reject a key permit. Councillor Dattaram Gaonkar told the Economic Times they wouldn’t give Ozen the permit until he clarified what the project was. “Whether it is an ashram or a hotel is not clear,” he said.
The Goa commune was never built.
In November 2011, followers received an email from Ozen explaining that he had trouble obtaining the permits. He was moving the project to Mexico, where a Mexican landowner Javier del Paso had donated a plot of land near Playa del Carmen, a bustling destination for spirituality tourism. (It’s unclear why del Paso donated the land; he did not respond to questions from VICE.) Many were shocked at this sudden turn of events and asked for refunds.
“I blindly trusted Swami Rajneesh, so I never had any doubt in my mind regarding construction of my cottage,” Vinod Singh, a software engineer from India who paid 777,000 Indian rupees for a cottage in Goa in 2011, wrote on his blog. Ozen confirms on his website that he owes Singh 777,000 Indian rupees.
Singh reported him to Indian police, but they told him it was too late because Ozen had already left the country. The complaint never resulted in charges. In 2012, Ozen flew to Mexico.
The commune in Mexico
The complaints failed to find traction. But as Ozen forged ahead with his project in Mexico, there was more trouble to come.
The land in Mexico was a 19-hectare plot of untouched jungle near the popular resort town of Playa del Carmen. In early 2012, Ozen posted photos of the land and his plans on Facebook, saying he would complete the project in two to three years. He said he had volunteers from all over the world offering to help. He said his “eco village” would offer “nature, silence, tranquility, meditativeness and a compassionate space for growth and flowering of human consciousness.” People responded with excited comments.
There was a split at this time between followers who had lost faith in Ozen and wanted refunds, and followers who still believed he was an enlightened disciple of Osho. His supporters flew to Mexico to help local workers build his commune. Ozen told some of them there would be meditations, but when they arrived there were none, and he put them to work.
In a 2013 YouTube video at a small gathering at his residence in Mexico, the guru said a recent heart attack had made him want to build even more ashrams.
“Now [I want to build] 10 ashrams, Osho free communes, so that no one single place can exploit his message. And more and more and more and more free communes so that if you don’t like one, you simply move to the other,” he said.
Ozen hired five companies with more than 100 workers to build his project, according to a manager at the resort. Hundreds of volunteers helped too.
The volunteers lived in offsite housing, about a 30-minute drive to the commune, with two people to each room, according to a former follower. Another follower said he was charged $200 a month for accommodations.
They would commute to the land by pick-up truck six days a week, and work 10 to 12 hours a day. Ozen, who also lived offsite, arrived around 4 p.m. each day to inspect their progress. Followers said he pulled up in a red Cadillac. Sometimes he would suddenly cancel their day off, two former followers said. Ozen didn’t respond when asked about the work conditions.
“It was remarkable to me,” said Mark Bloedjes, a former follower from the Netherlands who met Ozen on his world tour in the mid-2000s. “He would come at the end of the afternoon when everyone is tired, and he is telling us to do more jobs.”
Former volunteers said a member of Ozen’s management team, Chinmayo, was tasked with overseeing construction. They allege Chinmayo yelled at, chastised, and hit them if they did something incorrectly. Chinmayo told VICE he was never in charge of construction. He said he had arguments and fights with many people. He said he had assaulted two men because they abused women.
The volunteers were willing to work for free because they were followers of Osho, and believed that Ozen was truly his successor. They believed they were working toward his social justice cause of building an ashram that would offer Osho meditations for free.
Years before he arrived in Mexico, Bloedjes had his large intestine removed due to an infection, causing severe health problems. He said he sent Ozen $15,000 US but Ozen upsold him to a more expensive cottage for $21,000 US, claiming its cone shape had “healing energy.” Ozen did not reply when asked about this.
Around 2013, Bloedjes became one of the first to follow Ozen to Mexico. He volunteered to help build the project, against the advice of doctors who said he should not do manual labour.
“It was a big project and I was just willing to help with whatever I could,” Bloedjes said. “Everyone was excited to make this dream possible.”
He wasn’t paid, but Ozen provided basic meals. “Always rice and beans, every day,” Bloedjes said. “Every morning the same porridge. If we were lucky we’d get some raisins in it.” He lost weight, felt weak, and had diarrhea for months.
Other volunteers described similar meals, sometimes with eggs and vegetables. Ozen did not respond to questions about the meals.
Construction ramped up in 2014 and 2015, including of Ozen’s two-storey white palace. The workers built a recording studio where musicians recorded meditation music. They built Swan House, where live swans roosted. The guru purchased Buddha statues and a monument to Hindu elephant god Ganesha. On the ceiling of one building, they installed a mural of Jesus and angels. In the kitchen, an enlarged photo of Osho stared down at the modern-day sannyasins.
When the commune was nearly done in late 2015, Ozen’s followers moved into the cottages they had built. They meditated daily and threw a festival in March 2016 to celebrate.
The festivals became monthly in 2016, with 200 to 300 visitors at a time. They engaged in Osho Dynamic Meditations, shaking their bodies and breathing rapidly. Photos on the resort Facebook page show lavish meals of salads, fried manchurian balls, and star-shaped pizzas. At night, the resort lit up with parties featuring musicians and belly dancers.
Sexual misconduct allegations emerge on Facebook
Ozen’s followers worked hard to build his dream. They described him as intelligent, creative, and charismatic, but they also allege he was narcissistic, had a quick temper, and was more concerned about his project than the safety of residents.
In January 2014, Ozen, 52 at the time, started a relationship with a 19-year-old woman who lived at the resort. He says on his website he made her a 5 percent shareholder in the resort and bought her jewelry. The relationship ended in June 2014. She declined to comment for this story. Ozen says their relationship was consensual.
Another woman shared an experience she said was not consensual.
In fall 2014, a woman in her 20s from Germany, a vegan who was into yoga, says Ozen sent her a friend request on Facebook. They chatted for two months, and he invited her to Mexico for a New Year’s Eve party at the commune. “Your coming to Mexico will be the most precious gift I have ever received in my life!!” he wrote to her.
On December 29, she flew to the resort. Commune residents normally picked up newcomers at the airport, but Ozen picked her up himself. Instead of driving to the commune, he drove her to his apartment in Playa del Carmen. She slept in his guest room.
She described two separate incidents that left her feeling unsafe.
One evening they drove in his red Cadillac to meet commune members. He surprised her by saying he didn’t want her to leave his side and that she could sleep in his bed. During their Facebook chats, he had told her he was celibate. “I never anticipated he would try to make a move,” she told VICE.
When she said she wasn’t interested, she alleges “he went crazy,” slapping her leg hard and yelling that he was the successor of Osho and had more authority over her body than she did.
Because her money and passport were at his house, she told him she had trauma and wasn’t interested in sex. She said it worked. “His ego was tamed.”
On another occasion, she went to sleep in the guest room. When she woke up, she alleges he was touching her between her legs. She said she made an excuse of feeling sick, and went to the bathroom. Ozen followed her. She pretended to vomit and she alleges he came up behind her and pressed on her stomach.
“It was so creepy, it actually made me sick and I did vomit,” she said. After she vomited, she said he left her alone.
Eventually, they did visit the commune. The residents seemed lovely, she said. “But at the same time, they were all working their asses off.” She said they looked at Ozen as if he were a god.
She said after she rejected his advances, Ozen moved her flight up two weeks, telling her it was because she wouldn’t sleep with him. He gave her jewelry as a present, which she later sold in Germany.
A week after she got home, she wrote him an email saying what he did was the most terrible thing that had ever happened to her. He asked her for the necklace back and she said she didn’t have it any more. Ozen replied that he had put a “curse” on her, and she would return as a disciple, begging for his forgiveness.
After that, she blocked him on all platforms. It was the last she heard from him.
While at the commune, the woman said she confided in a member of Ozen’s management team, only known by her first name Lila, about the sexual assault allegation. Lila said the woman told her she was in a relationship with Ozen and had “bragged” about having tantric sex with him. “She never mentioned anything against Ozen while she was here in Mexico,” Lila told VICE.
About four months after she left Mexico, the woman said she told a friend about the incident. Her friend said he wrote a Facebook post in April 2015 accusing Ozen of sexual misconduct. In comments on the Facebook post, the woman described the alleged misconduct, and said she stayed quiet at first but had decided to come forward to warn people.
Ozen did not respond to questions about the sexual misconduct allegation. On his website, he says he has not abused any women.
Missing in Mexico
In a Facebook message on Aug. 29, 2015, Gerard wrote to Ozen that he wanted to go to a party that night in Tulum, about an hour’s drive from Playa del Carmen. Ozen replied that he should go. Gerard’s next message says he was driving a car.
Former resident Ashley Walker, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, remembers Gerard returned from the party. She said he drove other residents back to the commune.
Around this time, she said Gerard told her he had reached enlightenment. Looking back, she thinks he could have had a mental break.
In early September 2015, according to former resident Nirmaldeep Singh Sindhu, Gerard had not left his cottage for days and refused to work. One morning, Sidhu woke up to hear that Gerard had left his cottage at the edge of the jungle and walked into the dense forest carrying a bedsheet.
Sidhu and three others decided to search for him. One of them found a bedsheet and a black garbage bag at the edge of the jungle near Gerard’s cottage. But because the forest was so dense, the small group couldn’t conduct a proper search.
“I was surprised,” Sidhu said. “Why are only three or four people looking for him? Why not the whole team?” From the minimal search efforts, he got the impression the attitudes of Ozen and Chinmayo were: “If you find him, that’s OK; if not, back to your work.” Chinmayo told VICE that Sidhu was making up stories.
Walker said she witnessed two or three searches, but they didn’t find Gerard.
Several days after Gerard disappeared, Ozen called a meeting, according to Nimaldeep and Walker.
They say that Ozen told residents Gerard had vanished into the jungle and couldn’t be found, and he was an adult who was responsible for himself.
Ozen told them that his lawyer had advised him any investigation by authorities would jeopardize the survival of the commune, because some residents were working without valid visas, both Sidhu and Walker recalled.
“So he asked people to tell a story that Michael went to Tulum to meet a girl,” Sidhu said. “I don’t think he knew any girl in Tulum.”
Ozen said at the meeting that Gerard’s belongings and passport should be destroyed, both Sidhu and Walker said.
Based on what Ozen said at the meeting, Sidhu believed the guru wanted them to tell a story about Gerard’s disappearance because he didn’t want media or police to investigate and find visa issues at the commune. Sidhu called it “a cover up.”
“If I was him, I would tell the cops. I wouldn’t care about the project.”
On his website, Ozen says Gerard went to Tulum, found a girlfriend, and went travelling with her and her friends. He says the allegations about Michael’s disappearance are a “criminal smear campaign” against him.
Walker and Sidhu both said they never saw police come to the commune.
In hindsight, Sidhu said Ozen should have called police after Gerard disappeared, and ordered residents to search.
Sidhu said he didn’t call police because he trusted Ozen and believed in the project. Even if Sidhu wanted to call them, he said there was no wifi or phone signal in the jungle, he didn’t know how the legal system worked in Mexico, and he was living in isolation. He wasn’t allowed to use Ozen’s vehicles.
Sidhu said he and other residents could have contacted police but it would have been very difficult: “You’d have to walk I don’t know how many kilometres through the dense jungle to reach the highway, then hitchhike to go to civilization.”
Sidhu said he was scared Ozen would kick him out if he went against his wishes. He said it was common for Ozen to get angry.
Sidhu said he chose to stay at the commune until Chinmayo pushed him to the ground. That was the last straw and he left the commune for good. Chinmayo said he did push Sidhu to the ground, but said it was over his treatment of women. Sidhu denied mistreating women, calling the allegation “silly.”
According to emails reviewed by VICE, del Paso wrote to Ozen on September 9 saying he heard a follower had gone missing in the jungle.
He urged Ozen to form a search party, forming a line of people every 20 metres to comb the jungle. Satellite images show the commune surrounded by thick jungle on all sides, with access to a long dirt road an hour’s walk to the closest highway. It would be impossible for anyone without jungle knowledge to survive for more than three or four days, he wrote in an email.
“People like this with mind problems can be very harmful for this stage of the project,” del Paso wrote. “Remember that this guy and all your people has not visa for working, also nobody is allowed by law to live [in the commune] until you get the approval, and in case someone dies in the land it will bring an investigation and perhaps for sure it will appear in the newspaper. I think we don’t need this kind of news.”
The next day he wrote to Ozen again, urging him to immediately contact his lawyer and report Gerard’s disappearance to the Mexican police and embassy.
“What they will do is send people to search the jungle and if they don’t find him at least we will be protected,” he wrote. He warned the guru to keep his story straight when speaking to the authorities, stating that he should keep details including dates, Gerard’s motivation for coming to Mexico, and his job consistent.
Asked about the emails, del Paso and Ozen did not respond.
Facebook messages posted on Ozen’s website show Gerard’s last message to Ozen was on Aug. 30, 2015. Two weeks later, Ozen wrote two messages to Gerard asking him to call or send a message when he was “in Chiapas” and had internet. (Chiapas is about a 13-hour drive from Playa del Carmen and Tulum.) “Hope you enjoy the agua azul waterfalls with your girlfriend,” Ozen wrote. Gerard didn’t reply.
On Nov. 7, 2015, Ozen wrote a more urgent message to Gerard saying his mother was trying to find him. “Where are you?” he asked. He advised Gerard to contact his mother.
Gerard’s mother Liubov hadn’t heard from her son in more than a month. DHL told her that a package she sent him had been picked up on Oct. 22, 2015, but she doesn’t know who picked it up.
That October, she started contacting people at the commune. She emailed Ozen but says he didn’t reply. A female resident of the commune told her Gerard had gone to Tulum. She believed the story, at first. But she became increasingly worried. She deposited money into his account every month and he hadn’t made a withdrawal in months.
In December 2015, a family friend contacted the German consulate on her behalf. They believed the consulate would launch an investigation.
Then in March 2016, dissatisfied with the consulate’s response, she reported his disappearance to German police, saying her son had vanished at Ozen’s resort.
The German consulate in Mexico told her in an email they didn’t have the resources to search the jungle, and Mexican police were ultimately responsible.
In fall 2016, a year after Gerard went missing, Mexican police and an official from the German embassy made a visit to the commune. They were there for 30 minutes. They showed residents a photo of Gerard. Two people said they knew him but they didn’t know where he was.
German police and consular officials declined to comment on the case.
In December 2017, Ozen says he sent a letter to the German consulate, saying Gerard was “unreliable, confused, and unstable,” and had borrowed $400 US for a flight home, but later used the money to travel around Mexico. He said Gerard went to Tulum, found a girlfriend, and went travelling with friends.
Chinmayo told VICE that resort management had invited the German embassy to the resort, and German police had interviewed everyone there.
Undated letters posted on Ozen’s website show that residents of the commune gave statements to a German police detective. In one statement that appears to be written after 2017, commune resident Dhyanraj Satyam wrote that he didn’t know where Gerard was. “Someone thought he could have gone in the jungle, someone suggested Tulum or perhaps back to Germany.”
Ozen’s spokesperson Parvez Bahri told VICE Gerard was “a very unstable guy” and said the last they heard from him, he was travelling to Tulum.
In December 2017, former commune resident Dao Nguyen launched a website with allegations against Ozen claiming he was a “fake guru” who is not really Osho’s successor. The allegations on his website have not been verified and Ozen says the website “spread(s) false rumours.”
Soon after the site went live, the commune stopped holding festivals for a number of months and Ozen published a website called “Ozen the Real Story” that claimed that Nguyen’s website was based on disgruntled ex-followers who decided to create a smear campaign out of vengeance. Nguyen denies Ozen's allegations.
On his site, Ozen denies any allegations of fraud, and lists 19 people he has repaid—including Ranjita, who told VICE she has not received her money. He admits that he owes 21 people $169,000 US. “We have repeatedly informed by email all these 21 residents that they will receive their refunds once the Goa property is sold,” the site says. According to the site, the Goa property has been sitting on the market for seven years. Visitors to the resort last December said del Paso and Chinmayo told them the Mexico commune was also for sale.
Asked about the money allegations, Bahri said the Indian and Mexican projects were set up separately and referred VICE to Ozen’s website.
Ranjita still wants a refund six years later. She said she no longer believes Ozen is an enlightened disciple of Osho.
“Your mind cannot grasp the fact that a spiritual guide can be such a liar and a cheat,” she said. “It doesn’t cross your mind because you feel love; you put your trust in someone blindly. That is just stupid. It’s a big lesson.”
Gerard’s mother continues to search for answers. She recently hired a private investigator who put her thousands of dollars into debt and didn’t find any new information. “Even yesterday, I thought how nice it would be if Michael was back,” she wrote in an email to VICE in June. “I would have embraced him as a child, fried his favorite pancakes, baked his favorite waffles and biscuits.”
Every morning she wakes up wondering how to go on. “I’m sure he’s dead,” she wrote.
Facebook photos in April show Ozen travelling through Southeast Asia wearing red robes and large sunglasses, with an entourage of sannyasins. Photos in May show him back in Mexico, in front of a Dolce + Gabbana sign, surrounded by young women. Ozen Rajneesh Resort is hosting a tantric shamanic yoga retreat in October, charging up to $440 US per person, according to Facebook.
Ozen says he is building a new ashram university in India, scheduled to open in 2020 or 2021. The circle-shaped ashram will include a buddha hall, university classrooms, restaurants, cafes, a boutique, suites, lofts, a spa, and pool.
He says he plans to invest $12 million US. It’s not clear where he’s getting the money.
Contact the reporter: [email protected]
With files from Sofi Langis
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