Dalai Lama emissary in US suspended over corruption charges

Tenzin Dhonden, widely known as Lama Tenzin, who introduces himself as the 'Dalai Lama’s personal emissary for peace', in an undated photo.

Tenzin Dhonden, widely known as Lama Tenzin, who introduces himself as the "Dalai Lama’s personal emissary for peace", in an undated photo. Photographer unknown

By Lobsang Wangyal

McLEOD GANJ, India, 2 November 2017

The Secretary of the Dalai Lama Trust in the US, a monk who introduces himself as the “Dalai Lama’s personal emissary for peace”, has been suspended over charges of corruption, The Guradian newspaper has reported.

Confirming the suspension of the monk Tenzin Dhonden as Secretary, a trustee of the Dalai Lama Trust who requested anonimity said that Dhonden has been suspended since 5 October due to “lack of confidence in his leadership”.

The Dalai Lama Trust was founded in 2009 by Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama. The Trust is a US non-profit charitable organisation registered in the State of New York. It is governed by a board of trustees and chaired by the Dalai Lama.

The Trust was established to support the advancement and welfare of the Tibetan people, the culture and heritage of the ancient civilisation of Tibet, and the promotion of its deep-rooted values.

Pending an investigation, a prominent Seattle-based technology entrepreneur alleged that between 2005 and 2008, Dhonden abused his role to extract unjustified payments from him.

He said that Dhonden demanded payments in return for arranging an event with the Dalai Lama in Washington state.

However, Dhonden has disputed the allegations, and has contracted Patterson Belknap, a major New York City law firm, to defend him.

Attorneys for the law firm have said that the allegations against their client relate to events that “occurred nearly a decade ago, are largely inaccurate, and otherwise relate to conduct that is not unlawful, unethical, or even inappropriate”.

They asserted that the allegations have been “designed to falsely and unfairly tarnish” Dhonden’s reputation, and that the payments he received were for legitimate purposes.

Those lawyers are now locked in a behind-the-scenes battle with Daniel Kranzler, a Seattle businessman and philanthropist who claims that for several years he felt pressured into making payments to the monk, including some he alleges were made in cash to avoid leaving a trace.

Kranzler is believed to have relayed his accusations to the Dalai Lama during a face-to-face meeting over the summer, and in two letters he wrote to the Dalai Lama.

Widely known as “Lama Tenzin”, Dhonden, 53, founded and chaired a non-profit organisation called Friends of the Dalai Lama in 2000, in La Jolla, California, near San Diego. He has overseen the creation and planning of large-scale and elite events for the Dalai Lama through the two organisations throughout the United States annually.

His position as the “Dalai Lama’s Peace Emissary” led to frequent contact with multitudes of US politicians, philanthropists, celebrities, and scholars, who are eager to share the stage with the Dalai Lama. Most such arrangements were approved by Dhonden.

There is also a report indicating that the monk has shed his monastic vows after having an inappropriate relationship with a rich business heiress. He is even accused of persuading the Dalai Lama to appear on stage with promoters of a “personal and professional development” company which has negative press around it, because that was his ‘pay for play.’

Talk of Dhonden’s abuse of power in controlling the Dalai Lama’s events in the US led to the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile holding discussions about him in September 2015. Tibetans in the US had complained that Dhonden was avoiding any say from other Tibetans in arranging the Dalai Lama’s visit.

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