A yoga guru in France accused of running a sex slave ring and indoctrinating followers has been arrested as 26 women were freed.

Gregorian Bivolaru, 71, from Romania, was arrested alongside 40 others in a massive police operation involving 175 officers in the capital. The internationally known yoga teacher and author at the heart of the Atman Yoga Federation is accused of running the sect across dozens of countries, including Romania, Sweden and France. He is being charged with human trafficking, organized kidnapping, rape and organised abuse of weakness by members of a sect, according to French authorities.

Gregorian Bivolaru (L), the spiritual leader of MISA sect (The Movement for Spiritual Integration in the Absolute) (
AFP via Getty Images)

Police said they "freed" 26 women, several of whom were allegedly held against their will by the network called Movement for Spiritual Integration into the Absolute (MISA). The operation targeted several locations used by the organisation, where women were reportedly indoctrinated and coerced into sexual practices. The locations, described as "ashrams", served as housing for women selected by Bivolaru for initiation into tantric yoga practices, according to French authorities. The predator was sentenced in 2013 to six years in prison in Romania for raping a minor.

Bivolaru founded MISA in 1990 which then expanded internationally as the Atman Yoga Federation — which is now headquartered in England and runs yoga courses and yoga teacher training. The Federation’s website and other sites on Bivolaru allege that he is the victim of a wide-ranging plot to discredit him. The French investigation found evidence that students were coerced into sexual activities that included participating in explicit video chats for monetary gain, according to a French judicial official, who wasn’t authorised to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation, via the Associated Press. These alleged activities, purportedly carried out under the pretence of tantric yoga teachings, formed a part of an intricate system of financial exploitation and control, the official said.

Agnes Arabela Marques had a relationship with Bivolaru when she was 15 and in 2016 she told the British press: "Bivolaru was interested in an Indian myth that said you could get to a high spiritual level if you had sex with 1,000 virgin girls. He knew the age of each girl he had sex with because he received photos from his yoga students and the date of birth was written on the back. The girls living in that apartment would spend a few days or even a few weeks there and afterwards their place would be taken by other girls."

The group is believed to have "several hundred" members and is claimed to have organised orgies in the guru’s honour and forced followers to partake in commercial pornography to fund the organisation. The investigation followed a complaint by France’s Human Rights League, a human rights NGO after it received statements from 12 former MISA members alleging widespread abuse.