'Love cult' trial witness admits lying

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The Independent Online
A crucial witness in the trial of two British women - former members of the Bhagwan free-love cult - accused of alleged conspiracy to murder the US attorney in Oregon, admitted he has lied repeatedly under oath in past years.

The comments came during a persistent cross-examination that challenged the credibility of David Knapp, who was known as Swami Krishna Deva in his high-profile role as mayor of the north central Oregon commune a decade ago.

Mr Knapp testified on Thursday that Sally-Anne Croft and Susan Hagan, extradited from Britain, were participants in a conspiracy to kill the US attorney for Oregon in 1985, shortly before the commune broke apart amid criminal charges of attempted murder, wiretapping, arson and immigration fraud.

As the cross-examination of Mr Knapp, the first of five former followers of the guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh scheduled to testify for the prosecution, came to an end, defence lawyers drew his attention to various changes and embellishments he had made since his original interviews with authorities in 1985.

He was confronted with a transcript of his initial interview with the FBI in late 1985. In that interview, he did not list Ms Hagan as among those who attended a meeting in which the plot to kill Mr Turner first was discussed and said only that Ms Croft possibly was there.

But in his testimony on Thursday, Mr Knapp said he now remembers that Ms Croft and Ms Hagan attended the meeting in May of 1985. Ms Croft, who was known as Ma Prem Savita at the time, was in charge of the commune's finances. There was talk of sending people to Texas to buy guns that could not be traced to the commune. "I recall Savita saying that she could provide money for that if it was necessary," Mr Knapp said. The guns were purchased in Texas and New Mexico and a team from the commune went to Portland to find out Mr Turner's work habits and where he lived. The plot was not carried out.

Mr Knapp has served a two-year prison term after pleading guilty to charges of racketeering and making false statements to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. In exchange for agreeing to testify in other cases, he was granted immunity from prosecution for other crimes, including the attempted murder of Rajneesh's personal physician.

The commune broke up in the autumn of 1985, when Rajneesh pleaded guilty to an immigration charge in the same courtroom where Ms Croft and Ms Hagan are standing trial. Rajneesh left the US and died in India in 1990.

The trial continues.