Massimo Introvigne

Buenos Aires Yoga School (BAYS)


1938 (June 29):  Juan Percowicz was born in Buenos Aires.

1971:  Percowicz started taking both yoga classes at GEBA, the Gymnastic and Fencing Club of Buenos Aires, and private lessons from Dante Norberto Parandelli.

1983:  Percowicz started teaching Raja Yoga in Buenos Aires. He later referred to his pupils as students of an “Escuela de Yoga de Buenos Aires” (Buenos Aires Yoga School, BAYS), although no formal structure existed before 1993.

1990:  Percowicz and a group of students bought land in State of Israel Avenue in Buenos Aires’ neighborhood of Villa Crespo, where a building with a coffee shop also used for lectures and apartments for some of the students were built.

1993:  The Fundación Escuela de Yoga de Buenos Aires was incorporated as a legal structure for BAYS. It functioned for one year only, due to the 1994 court case.

1993 (November 30):  After suffering a deprogramming attempt on November 27 and 28, an adult female BAYS student (twenty-four) filed a complaint against her stepfather for unlawful deprivation of liberty and left her family home with the aid of police agents.

1993 (December 22):  The stepfather of that student filed a complaint claiming his stepdaughter had been “brainwashed” by BAYS. A few of his friends, who also had adult children as students at the institution, joined him, later followed by a young man who had relatives in the BAYS and had himself attended the school for a short period, Pablo Salum. They accused the BAYS of operating a clandestine prostitution ring, where female students worked as prostitutes to finance the school. A criminal investigation was opened in 1994.

1999:  Because of the pending court case and other considerations, Percowicz decided that no new students would be admitted into the school, with some limited exceptions for adult children of existing students.

2000 (May 11):  All BAYS defendants were found innocent of all charges in a first-degree decision stating that no evidence of crime had emerged. The decision would be confirmed both on appeal and by the Court of Cassation in 2001.

2022 (August 12):  Based on a complaint by Pablo Salum, the special prosecutors’ office against human trafficking PROTEX instructed the police to raid the State of Israel building in the presence of the media, and the private homes of several BAYS members, looking again for evidence of prostitution activities. Nineteen BAYS members were arrested, including Percowicz.

2022 (September 8):  Judge Ariel Lijo of the Buenos Aires court indicted the nineteen defendants. They appealed.

2022 (November 4):  The Court of Appeals partially confirmed seventeen indictments, found lack of merit in the other two, ordered the release of all detainees, and urged Judge Lijo to hear the nine alleged female victims and especially to submit them to psychological and psychiatric tests through experts and allow the defense evidence that he had not previously admitted. One of the three judges, Eduardo Farah, in a partially dissenting opinion stated that he would have simply declared all the defendants innocent and closed the case.

2023 (July 3):  The expert psychological examination of the alleged victims was concluded, and all the nine women, who denied ever having worked as prostitutes, were found in normal mental health and believable.

2023 (July 4):  Judge Lijo, without taking into account the forensic medical reports or having allowed evidence from the defense, closed the investigation.

2023 (September 19):  Judge Lijo committed the defendants to trial.

2023 (October 10):  The alleged victims appeared before the Court of Appeals and denied the existence of any crime against them, claiming that PROTEX is using them to increase its victim statistics.

2023 (December 7):  The Court of Appeals of Buenos Aires annulled the decree that considered the investigation closed and all its consequences, including the elevation to trial, and sent the case back to Judge Lijo, asking him to take into account the expert psychological examination of the alleged victims. In another partially dissenting opinion, Judge Farah reiterated that he would have simply acquitted all the defendants and put an end to the case.

2023 (December 22):  The prosecutors filed an appeal against the Court of Appeals decision of December 7.

2024 (February 8):  The Court of Appeals declares the prosecutors’ appeal inadmissible.


Juan Percowicz [Image at right] was born in Buenos Aires on June 29, 1938, from Polish-Ukrainian Jewish parents. By his own account, he was a mediocre student. From his childhood he was as interested in philosophers and the great figures of world literature while his friends were in Argentinian football players, which somewhat distracted him from the regular school curriculum. He was good with numbers, though, and eventually graduated from the School of Economics of the University of Buenos Aires with a degree in business administration and became a certified public accountant (Percowicz 1992:12).

He never made it to the Olympus of high-profile accounting firms, but he had a prosperous business, which allowed him free time to keep studying philosophy and opened to him the doors of the, the Gymnastic and Fencing Club of Buenos Aires (GEBA), regarded by many as the finest club in the city. There, a police doctor named Dante Norberto Parandelli (1933–2010) was offering yoga classes. A look at the books written by him (Parandelli 1989, 1991) helps to dispel a misunderstanding about the word “yoga.” When they raided the BAYS in 2022 (see below under “Issues/Challenges”), the PROTEX prosecutors were surprised that they did not find yoga mats at a place called a school of yoga. But in fact in its millennia-old history in India, yoga has always been a philosophy before being a system of physical exercises. Parandelli taught both, although some of his books deal with the philosophical part only, and it was yoga as a philosophy (Raja Yoga) that mostly interested Percowicz.

From 1971, Percowicz took classes with Parandelli at GEBA, and private lessons from him as well. Later, when the first criminal case against the BAYS started, Parandelli tried to downplay his relationship with Percowicz (Juzgado de Instrucción Criminal n° 46 2000:67). While stating that Parandelli only helped him in the first part of his philosophical itinerary, Percowicz remained grateful to him. In one of the few books he published, Los cinco magos de la Notre-Dame (The Five Magicians of Notre Dame), co-authored with Susana Franca and César Pallotta in 1991, Percowicz included Dante Parandelli (Etnad, or Dante spelled backwards) and the mysterious man Parandelli himself mentioned as his own master, “Durante” (Etnarud), among the five magicians who meet every hundred years above Paris’ cathedral to work on behalf of humanity (Percowicz, Franca, and Pallotta 1991).

To become the man known to his pupils as the founder and leader of BAYS, Percowicz did not rely on groups and schools. He spent more than ten years avidly reading Western and Eastern philosophers and esoteric masters, from Plato (ca. 428–348 BCE) to Walt Whitman (1819–1892), and from Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986) and Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952) to Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) and Maurice Nicoll (1884–1953). His list of preferred authors (that he would later recommend to his students) included Hindu masters such as Vivekananda (1863–1902) and Western esoteric luminaries such as Helena Blavatsky (1831–1891), Charles Webster Leadbeater (1854–1934), Mabel Collins (1851–1927) and Paul Brunton (1898–1981). It also included Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) and Hermann Hesse (1877–1962). While the catalog looks eclectic, by interviewing both Percowicz and his students (personal interviews, Buenos Aires, March 20–24, 2023) the importance of one particular tradition emerged, the teachings of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866?–1949) as presented by his independent disciple Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky (1878–1947). This does not mean that Ouspensky’s book In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching (Ouspensky 1949), with which all BAYS students are familiar, is a textbook or a manual for them. They just take from it some basic ideas, for which they find confirmations in other texts and traditions.

In 1983, three ladies called in the school the “Three Bs” [Bibí Lefèvre de Giglioli, Beba Fernández de Morales (1932–2016), and Beatriz Vigil de Sosa Molina (1936–2005)] asked Percowicz to teach Raja Yoga to them (Percowicz 1992:12). This was the origin of what later became the BAYS. It was always a group of friends, which never exceeded 300 members, with a larger circle of perhaps 1,000 who occasionally attended events and lectures. The lectures attracted, among others, distinguished members of the artistic and musical community, including soprano Verónica Iácono, the late violin player, composer, and director Rubén González (1939–2018), who had an important career in the United States, Mariano Krawczyk (Mariano Krauz), regarded as one of the best oboists in the world, and composer Susana Mendelievich [Image at right]. They expressed the ideas of the school in musical compositions that caught the attention, among others, of Spanish opera singer Plácido Domingo, who became their friend of many years (although, after the 2022 raid, he also tried to distance himself from the group). Artists of a different field also joined: Carlos Barragán went on to win the 1997 World Championships of Stage Magic in Dresden, Germany, with a team entirely composed of BAYS members (FISM 2023).

My interviewees commented that the school also attracted a large number of members from two minorities, Jews and homosexuals. They all maintained that anti-Semitism was a component of the opposition, and in the early days the fact that the school welcomed homosexuals also raised eyebrows. In 1990, a group of students teamed up with Percowicz and hired architects from the same school to build a ten-story building on State of Israel Avenue in the (historically Jewish) Villa Crespo neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Percowicz would own a café [Image at right] where courses would be held, on the ground floor, and the other members of the group would own the flats on the other floors. The café was inaugurated in 1992. The construction of the rest of the building was halted in 1994 due to the first criminal proceedings and restarted in 1995.

During the criminal case of 1994–2000 and even after all its defendants were declared innocent of all charges in 2000 (see below, under “Issues/Challenges”), BAYS kept a low profile and lived a quiet life until 2022, when its activities were disrupted by the police raid and the arrest and prosecution of Percowicz and  eighteen other members of BAYS.


The BAYS does not regard itself as a religious movement, and students keep their own religion if they have one (interviews of Juan Percowicz and fifteen BAYS students, Buenos Aires, March 20–24, 2023, on which this section is largely based). I interviewed one who told me that she regularly goes to Catholic Mass, and another spent a good part of her life as an executive in different leading Argentinian Jewish organizations. Rather than “religion” or “spirituality,” they prefer to use the word “philosophy.” However, they insist that we are all naturally philosophers, whether we use this word or not. We can, however, repress and deny our philosophical attitude (i.e., the natural tendency to ask questions about the meaning of life), but this generates stress, frustration, violence at the individual and social level. It is even the root cause of the alarming spread of drug addictions and of wars. Some of my interviewees were medical doctors and clinical psychologists and insisted that the study of philosophy may help solving serious problems of addiction, besides improving the general well-being.

Just as it happened with Gurdjieff, the focus was much more on this life than on the next. Percowicz told me he personally inclines towards the doctrine of reincarnation and finds the idea of karma reasonable, but nobody is obliged to be religious or to believe in any religious doctrine in the school, although there are groups studying (but from a “philosophical” more than from a dogmatic or theological point of view) the sacred scriptures of different religions [Image at right].

The teachings of Gurdjieff are notoriously obscure. Despite biographies, conferences, special issues of academic journals, and courses devoted to him in several universities, Gurdjieff’s thought remains elusive to the non-initiated (Needleman and Baker 1996). Gurdjieff was a harsh spiritual master, who believed that most humans were in a sleeping state without knowing it and needed shock therapy, including verbal abuse, and demanding physical exercises, to wake up.

Percowicz told me that these were methods perhaps appropriate for a different historical time. He never adopted them but from Gurdjieff, as presented by Ouspensky, he took two fundamental ideas. One of them is that one of the most difficult human endeavors is to observe ourselves. The first stages of Gurdjieff’s “Work” propose observation, verification, and acceptance of the truth of the human condition through study, participation in group work, and mindfulness exercises (“self-remembrance”). Theoretically, each of us should be able to perform this self-observing routine individually. In practice, however, since the risk of self-delusion is always present, group work with others is indispensable for evolution. By working in a group, self-observation can be more objective; and an experienced master may make the path to evolution considerably shorter.

Gurdjieff also taught that many contradictories, competing “I”s or selves coexist in each person. This conflict makes thinking and acting in a unified form ultimately impossible. A contradictory set of thoughts, emotional reactions, and repetitive mechanisms of self-protection determines a state of confusion and unhappiness. An awareness of this state is the first step in the direction of awakening. As Australian scholar Carole Cusack has demonstrated, Gurdjieff (who disliked putting his ideas in writing) did teach a model of evolution where humans were divided into types, although the number of them varied over time and each of his main disciples adopted a slightly different model (Cusack 2020).

Percowicz used a seven-type model, and within each degree introduced the distinction between aspirant, informal, and formal. While in the first three levels humans are dominated by one feature only (physical, emotional, or intellectual), some balance is achieved at level four, which allows to move to the higher levels of evolution, five (the genius), six (the saint), and seven (the master or the angel). Theories of types are, of course, not exclusive to Gurdjieff. Students found similar ideas in Hermann Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf (Hesse 1927), which became an important reference for the school.

Some Gurdjieffian harshness remains in sentences in Percowicz’s lectures, which  may give the impression that those at the lower levels, dominated by the “low ‘I’s” (yoes bajos), are hardly human. As a matter of fact, the concept is a little more complex. It refers to the idea of contradictory “I’s” defined above, according to which some ideas or emotions of ours can lead to erroneous decisions while others can be much wiser. The representation of “I’s” as distinct persons within us is often used in BAYS to help students differentiate among these “I’s,” References to “humans” or “low I’s” made this way are never meant to disdain others but to repel one’s own bad tendencies. In this context, “human” refers not to a person but to a state: the “sleeping state” described by Gurdjieff as common to most human beings, opposite to the “self-remembrance” state, which is also possible for everybody. According to the school, achieving this higher level is difficult but not impossible.

In fact, Percowicz teaches a method more than contents. Ouspensky offers a point of view from which a great number of authors and texts can be mobilized at the service of spiritual evolution, often through short aphorisms that are then commented on in all their philosophical implications. The texts and authors the school studies the most changed and rotated over time. Benjamín Franklin (1706–1790), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), William Shakespeare (1564–1616) were all discussed at one time, and I encountered several references to Argentinian poet Pedro Bonifacio Palacios, “Almafuerte” (1854–1917). Fyodor Dostoyevski (1821–1881) has a special importance in the BAYS, the image of a poker game where the cards corresponded to aphorism-like sentences of the Russian writer inspired a book published in 1993 (Percowicz, Franca, and Pallotta 1993), and an opera the school’s musicians wrote and represented in 1995 (Loiacono, González, Krauz, and Mendelievich 2007). During the COVID lockdown, which was very strict in Argentina, students deemed it fit to meditate on Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1802–1885: Hugo 1862). The BAYS also created subgroups exploring a great variety of subjects. One was astrology, approached psychologically according to the school of Oskar Adler (1875–1955). [Image at right]

Yet, the school discovered that, while philosophy made it easier to become better human beings and even overcome alcohol or drug addictions, problems remained. These problems were connected to the fact that we constantly need to communicate with others, who may be very different from us, and we do not really know them. Communication was always a major theme of BAYS and was originally approached through the notion of “the way of the geisha” (geishado), an idea that came from a poem by Percowicz’ old yoga master, Dante Parandelli. Scholars of Japanese culture know that a geisha is not a prostitute (Gallagher 2003). Although she may sometimes enter into sexual relationships with her clients, she mostly entertains them with her artistic, musical, and conversational skills and a superior art of courtesy. “Geishado” meant in the BAYS acquiring a style of refined courtesy and was applied to both women and men. When the school was accused of favoring prostitution, “geisha” as synonym of an aristocratic courtesy typical of Japanese culture was increasingly replaced by “samurai courtesy,” which Hollywood had popularized in the meantime.

Since 2010, however, the main reference for communication became Dale Carnegie’s (1888–1955) 1936 book How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the greatest bestsellers of all times (Carnegie 1936). Carnegie’s book created a whole generation, in fact more than one, of American businesspersons and politicians who believed that we could change others by changing our own attitude to them. Carnegie is generally considered as a quintessential torch-bearer of American values of moralistic benevolence. It is not the lesser paradox of the BAYS case that its ubiquitous presence in the school was later interpreted by the prosecutors as yet another way of teaching the sinister arts of “brainwashing” and manipulation.

Carnegie would have in fact agreed with Percowicz’ very simple ethic, which is based on the principles of not harming themselves and not harming others. I was told by some of the earliest students that, at a time where life was difficult for homosexuals in Argentina, they were surprised when, having disclosed their sexual orientations, they were told that BAYS regarded them as irrelevant. BAYS also welcomed artists and musicians whose way of living was somewhat unconventional and “scandalous” for conservative Argentinian standards. While in thousands of recorded lectures by Percowicz references to sexuality are very scarce, he did maintain a non-judgmental attitude towards different forms of sexual behavior among consenting adults [Image  at right].


There are no specific rituals or practices in the BAYS, which regards itself as a school of philosophy and Raja Yoga where students are encouraged to listen to lectures and study texts, although they may also demonstrate what they have learned through artistic performances.

Until 2022, at the center of the life of the school were the classes given twice a week in the café, personally by Juan Percowicz in the early years and mostly by senior students more recently. Although classes were not offered after the 2022 raid, the café keeps what looks like a stage with musical instruments where shows and performances were offered before the lectures.

In addition to the classes, there were ceremonies and “rituals” organized by a group of women, humorously called the “Ghostbusters” after the 1984 American comedy movie. While the judge in the court case suspected these were rituals of “black magic” or “sexual orgies,” I interviewed some of the Ghostbusters themselves, who insisted that they consisted in lighting candles and ritually cleansing apartments with vinegar and the medicinal herb known as rue (ruta graveolens), which is often used in ritual magic [Image at right]. These “rituals” did not involve all students. Those who participated did not necessarily believe in magic, the Ghostbusters explained, but did find the ceremonies had a positive psychological effect on participants.


For most of its forty years and more of existence, the BAYS has been an informal group of students, united by the common acknowledgement of Percowicz’s authority as a teacher, but without formal structure. In 1993, the BAYS tried to create a legal structure overseeing its activity, the Fundación Escuela de Yoga de Buenos Aires, but it was put into receivership in 1994 at the time of the first court case and, after 29 years of inactivity on the part of the receiver, finally liquidated in 2023.

The school per se continued to function without legal organization. However, there was a list of those considered students and the levels they had achieved through years of studying in the BAYS, based on the classification into types inspired by Gurdjieff. According to the list I examined, twenty students had achieved the seventh level, nine of whom were “7 formal,” including Percowicz. He presents himself as one “who knows what he knows and knows what he does not know.” Some early students took it to mean that, by knowing both what he knows and what he does not know, Percowicz in fact knows everything. He told me he took this interpretation as a joke, clarifying that “knows what he does not know” means that he is aware of what he has yet to learn. At any rate, all students I interviewed were very grateful to him, and claimed to have benefited from his suggestions and insights even in fields he is not directly familiar with.

Members of the BAYS created businesses that were not part of the school but applied some of its ideas to different fields and employed mostly fellow students. B.A. Group offered coaching through both courses and private lessons and had among its clients some large Buenos Aires institutions and businesses. Aznarez Propiedades was a real estate agency, and some students also worked at Salum Propiedades. The owner was the brother of anti-cultist Pablo Salum, Germán Javier Salum, who eventually left the BAYS but unlike his brother remained a friend.

CMI Abasto was called within BAYS a “clinic” but was more exactly a center with offices of several doctors and psychologists, not all of them members of the school. There, one of the services offered were the “sleep cures” (curas de sueño) where stressed patients could engage in therapies through which they were induced to sleep for longer hours than usual, as well as to recreate by painting, reading, or listening to music for relaxation purposes and, if they wanted, following a nutritional diet. [Image at right] There was also a law firm led by a female student, Susana Barneix, who is an attorney, and several companies in the United States, where the school had a few members. In the court cases an informal “bank” was also mentioned. This in fact was a common fund where those who lived in the State of Israel Avenue building and others might contribute to common expenses and borrow money when needed.

I interviewed those responsible for these businesses and BAYS students who worked there. They told me that most clients were not members of BAYS, and never received a proposal to join the school. Before 2022, Aznarez sold dozens of properties, only four of them to students of the school. B.A. had no clients at all that were part of BAYS. CMI Abasto had BAYS patients, including Percowicz, but many were not part of the school and had not even heard about it. They all denied that the businesses were used to promote the school, although they did apply philosophical principles their managers had learned from the BAYS.


In the early 1990s, the BAYS looked like a small but prosperous organization. When on June 5, 1992, Percowicz presented the school’s philosophy in a lecture at the Sheraton Buenos Aires Hotel & Towers, the event had been declared of “national interest” and had received the official congratulations of the Ministry of Culture and Education, the City of Buenos Aires, and several other institutions (Percowicz 1992) [Image at right]. The school’s musicians were gaining national and international recognition. Carlos Barragán and his all-BAYS team were on their way to being acknowledged as the world champions of stage magic. Others had gained awards in the artistic, business, and medical fields. Percowicz himself was awarded in 1993 with the “Orden Al Mérito Cristóbal Colón” (“Cristopher Columbus Order of Merit”) by the World Council for Curriculum and Instruction (on which see Overly 2003), “for his outstanding work as a relevant figure in Latin America, contributing to world peace, to the understanding of peoples and to the cultural and educational elevation of nations” (World Council for Curriculum and Instruction 1993).

Unbeknownst to BAYS members, however, the wind of the anti-cult campaigns had started blowing over Argentina as well. Small anti-cult groups were organizing themselves, with the help of U.S. and French anti-cultists.

On November 27 and 28, 1993, the mother and stepfather of a BAYS young adult female student (twenty-four years-old) hired an anti-cult psychologist to conduct a deprogramming on her in order to force her to leave BAYS. Two days later, the young female sought legal help, filed a complaint against her stepfather for unlawful deprivation of liberty, and was assisted by the police to fetch her belongings so that she could leave for good.

On December 23, 1993, the stepfather of that female BAYS student claimed that she had left his home because she had been “brainwashed” by the school. While the stepdaughter argued that the real reason was her stepfather’s abusive behavior (which was later confirmed by a psychologist during the trial), the man recruited a few other parents who claimed their adult children had been “brainwashed” too. Some told extraordinary tales of women compelled to have lesbian relations or work as prostitutes, and of boys sexually initiated by older women, including their own mothers. One of those who told these stories was the father of Pablo Gastón Salum, who is well-known today in his country as the leading Argentinian anti-cultist. Pablo’s mother, brother, and sister remained in the school. His father said Pablo had left because he was “horrified” (Juzgado de Instrucción Criminal n° 46 2000:51).

Pablo himself testified in the case and denied his father’s story. He said he had left BAYS because he had lost interest in its classes, which he had attended for three or four years since age ten, but that he had not seen anything improper there. He declared that after leaving BAYS he kept living with his mother for a year, and only left his mother’s home and went to his father’s because his mother asked him to work or complete elementary school (which he had also left), something he didn’t want to do (Juzgado de Instrucción Criminal n° 46 2000:102–3). Later, however, after further family quarrels (in one of which his brother reported he had been threatened by him with a knife) Pablo testified again, and said he had rendered a false deposition following instructions by Percowicz. He backed up his father’s story by saying that young boys in the BAYS were sexually initiated by older women, including his own mother, and added lurid details about orgies and prostitution. He claimed that the BAYS was the most dangerous “cult” operating in Argentina (Juzgado de Instrucción Criminal n° 46 2000:111–17). Pablo’s career as an anti-BAYS “professional apostate” had started. Meanwhile, Percowicz and another thirty BAYS leaders and students had found themselves under criminal investigation. [Image at right]

Judge Julio César Corvalán de la Colina had to put some order in what looked like a hopeless mess of contradictory statements. It took him several years, as the case had started in 1993 and his decision was dated May 11, 2000, which was confirmed by the Court of Appeals on December 28, 2000 and by the Court of Cassation on September 10 and November 28, 2001. He devoted several pages to discuss whether the BAYS was a “cult” (secta), although he also noted that operating a “cult” was not a crime under Argentinian law. He stated he did believe in “brainwashing” theories, based on a book with this very title, El lavado de cerebro (Brainwashing) by Spanish social psychologist Álvaro Rodríguez Carballeira, a digest of the early anti-cult “brainwashing” ideology (Rodríguez Carballeira 1992).

Judge Corvalán de la Colina came to the conclusion that, although he believed “brainwashing” existed, the BAYS had not practiced it. He declared all the defendants innocents. The most serious crime they had been accused of was corruption of minors. Corvalán noted that the two alleged victims denied absolutely that they had been corrupted or abused, a scenario that would repeat itself in 2022. The judge regarded them as more believable than the anti-BAYS witnesses. He also found that the two declarations of Pablo Salum contradicting each other made him a highly doubtful witness and noted that his and his father’s stories were highly conditioned by a situation of family conflict.

Psychological expert reports had confirmed that, although perhaps in some cases easily influenceable, the alleged victims, who denied having been victimized, were all mentally competent. The judge was also impressed by the fact that, after some seven years of a judicial ordeal and considerable media slandering, they had all remained in the school. He wrote that theirs was a “project of life their parents probably did not approve of,” but it had been freely chosen, and that choice was protected by the Argentinian Constitution (Juzgado de Instrucción Criminal n° 46 2000:198). [Image at right]

As mentioned earlier, after the judicial victory of 2000, and in fact even before it, the BAYS decided to keep a low profile. The story of how the BAYS had been attacked and had emerged victorious from the long 1993 court case was not publicly told. One student who had two cousins among the “desaparecidos” of the military regime told me that perhaps the memories of these years, haunting a generation so much marked by fear, had made them reluctant to criticize the police. However, the fact that the first criminal case and its outcome were not well-known outside of the two subcultures of the BAYS members and the anti-cultists would make more difficult for BAYS to react when a second raid happened twenty-two years after the favorable decision of 2000.


The date was August 12, 2022. In the cafeteria located on the ground floor of the State of Israel building, some fifty BAYS students were listening to a class about philosophy. The youngest were in their forties and the oldest in their eighties. All of a sudden, a thunderous noise was heard. Fully armed SWAT team police broke the door and entered the coffee shop with weapons loaded, with safety removed, and ready to shoot. In a few seconds, all hell broke loose. [Image at right] The police went up to all the apartments and started breaking all the doors, pursued in vain by their owners who offered the keys to the officers so that they could enter without destroying the entryways. Once inside, the police searched everywhere, gutting furniture and throwing all the contents of the cabinets on the floors. When the agents left, almost all owners complained that money and jewels had been stolen.

Meanwhile, in the State of Israel Avenue, dozens of agents and reporters were taking pictures of people taken out of the building, whom the media interpreted either as criminals or “victims” rescued from them. Similar scenes took place around Buenos Aires during all the night, in another fifty private apartments of members of what was believed to be the same criminal organization. All in all, nineteen persons were arrested, three of them at Buenos Aires airport before boarding a plane to the United States, and warrants for arrest were issued against other nine, five of whom were abroad.

When the raid hit the BAYS, lawyers were immediately contacted. Susana Barneix, a student holding a level seven formal, was herself a lawyer, but she was also among those arrested. The attorneys immediately advised their BAYS clients that their best defense was double jeopardy. They were being accused of crimes for which they had already been investigated and acquitted in 2000. Many women believed to be “victims” and prostitutes were also the same of the old case, only twenty-two years older. Pablo Salum himself implied in some of his public statements that what had changed since 2000 was not the facts, but the laws. However, criminal laws cannot be retroactive, not to mention the fact that the judgment in the previous case had dismissed not the criminal nature of the alleged facts but their mere existence.

What the prosecutor tried to apply against the BAYS was the Argentinian law 26.842 of 2012 against human trafficking. Why and how this law was passed has been reconstructed in a critical book by the academic and assistant prosecutor Marisa S. Tarantino, published in 2021 (Tarantino 2021). Tarantino describes both the international and domestic pressures on Argentina for a tougher law on human trafficking. Law 26.842 went beyond the international conventions that regard as victims of human trafficking, even if they deny their condition of victims, those who are exploited for prostitution or forced labor through violence, threats, or deception. In the Argentinian law of 2012, these are not features of the crime, although if present they are considered as aggravating circumstances. This means that there may be human trafficking even in absence of violence, threats, or deception.

Tarantino explains that there were two reasons for introducing this Argentinian peculiarity. The first was the influence of the movement for the abolition of prostitution. Although prostitution per se, if freely exercised by the prostitute, is not illegal in Argentina, the 2012 law implies that there is no such a person as a free prostitute, and all are at least suspect of being trafficked. The second reason is the lobbying activity of a special prosecutorial office called PROTEX (Procuraduría para el Combate de la Trata y Explotación de Personas, Office of the Procurator for Combating the Trafficking and Exploitation of Persons), whose powers and resources were greatly expanded.

According to Tarantino, the tool used to criminalize prostitution in general (without explicitly saying it) is “vulnerability as a tool of control” (Tarantino 2021:200). This creates a “paradigm of victimization” that denies certain subjects their “political agency” (Tarantino 2001:206). In other words, a prostitute is by definition “vulnerable” and “a victim.” If she says that she has freely decided to be a prostitute, this only proves that the “victimization” has been especially effective, and what remains to be done is for the PROTEX to ascertain who the victimizer is.

The PROTEX luminaries quoted by Tarantino in her book as defending a wider-ranging paradigm of vulnerability were the same people who organized the raid against the BAYS. The PROTEX, who started a regular cooperation with Pablo Salum and raided several other “cults,” claimed that just as those who work as prostitutes, those who join “cults” are all “victimized” by “abusing their vulnerability,” even when they deny it. Their denial is evidence they have been “brainwashed.”

Judge Ariel Oscar Lijo on September 8, 2022, indicted nineteen BAYS defendants through a document of 572 pages (Juzgado Criminal y Correccional Federal n° 4 2022). In a nutshell it told the following story. The BAYS is a “cult” according to the definition of anti-cultists, which attracts its members and keeps them in the school through the use of “brainwashing.” While ostensibly its aim is to teach philosophy, its real purpose is to enrich Percowicz and other leaders through the practice of prostitution. Female members are submitted to a continuous “brainwashing,” some of them almost since birth because their parents were already members of the school and are deprived of their free will and personality. They are then trafficked and sent to meet male clients. Most of the money from their prostitution business goes to BAYS. The different companies operated by BAYS members, such as the coaching company and the real estate agencies, are fronts whose aim is to fraudulently justify the presence of profits that come in fact from prostitution, so that the businesses are in fact money-laundering organizations. The so-called clinic is also used for money-laundering, but the “sleep cures” there are also used to further brainwash the women who work as prostitutes and punish those who try to rebel or escape (why Percowicz and other leaders also went through these cures was not explained). While a comparatively small number of student-prostitutes were regarded as victims, many leaders and members of the school were considered perpetrators and part of a criminal conspiracy, which justified their arrest.

Obviously, this vast conspiracy needed to be proved. The indictment mentions one complainant, who was not named but is obviously Pablo Salum, and four witnesses, who seem to be persons who cleaned the apartments in State of Israel Avenue, and others where students lived, and the so-called “clinic.” One was identified by students as a cleaning lady who had been caught stealing and fired and had vowed to “go to Pablo Salum” as vengeance. The witnesses do not say much, except that they heard rumors and saw women “dressed like prostitutes.” One witness said she saw students dressed in “red and blue,” which she believed to be “the colors typical of ‘old prostitutes’.”

Based on Pablo Salum’s claims, the PROTEX believed that sexual encounters were videotaped, and the tapes kept in the house of the stage magician Barragán for possible future uses as blackmail material. However, thousands of videos seized in Barragán’s apartment were patiently viewed and indexed by the agents and only included stage magic shows and BAYS courses.

What the judge was left with was the interpretation of tapped telephone conversations and the journals of some female members, with some ambiguous references to boyfriends and sexuality open to different interpretations and that the PROTEX presented as evidence of prostitution. The defense also claimed that, when confronted against the actual recordings, several transcriptions proved to have been seriously altered to the detriment of the defendants.

To make matters worse, the judge did not take into account (and when they were subject to his approval, did not even allow) the many pieces of evidence provided by the defendants to prove the legitimate origin of their savings, which were seized in their entirety, while considering well-known 30-year-old companies as “facades” without carrying out even the most elementary analysis. The unreasonableness reached such a point that, for example, an apartment that a student inherited from her deceased mother was considered as obtained through human trafficking (Juzgado Criminal y Correccional Federal n° 4 2022).

Only after the indictment, in October 2022, nine women indicated as victims or “possible victims” were called to testify through a “Cámara Gesell,” a closed room where witnesses answer questions prepared by the prosecutors but asked to them by psychologists. They all stated that they were not prostitutes, had never traded sex for money, had not been trafficked, and were normal, professional women, with a life, work, and friends outside of BAYS, so that the accusations that they were “brainwashed” were ridiculous. Both I and, separately, two other scholars of new religious movements, Susan Palmer and Holly Folk (Palmer 2023), interviewed all of them, who told us as much. [Image at right] They certainly did not look like prostitutes, moved freely around Buenos Aires, and if they had lost their jobs it was because of the raid and the investigation. The youngest of them was thirty-five and the oldest was sixty-six.

The judge had anticipated that the victims would deny that they were victims, and here is where the “brainwashing” issue and how law 26.842 is interpreted by PROTEX emerged as the keys of the matter. If a trafficked prostitute denies that she is a prostitute, the PROTEX argues, this is further evidence she is trafficked, and somebody is abusing her vulnerability. In many cases of trafficking, it is in fact true that trafficked prostitutes refuse to testify because they are terrorized by organized crime. The BAYS case, however, was different. These were not terrorized migrants or marginalized women but cultivated professionals who had (before the raid) regular jobs and a very normal social life.

The BAYS prisoners were submitted to a very harsh jail regime. Ten shared the same cell. Those of them who were male homosexuals reported to me that they were insulted and intimidated by dangerous gang men who occupied a nearby cell. They survived thanks to their artists and musicians, who started working at an opera, “The Power of God.” [Image at right]

On November 4, 2022, the Court of Appeals freed all defendants from jail. Two of the three judges still believed there was evidence justifying going on with the case against seventeen defendants, although they chastised Judge Lijo for not having allowed the defense to present its evidence. The third judge, Eduardo Farah, wrote in partial dissent that it was a very good idea to send the prisoners home, but the court should also have considered whether the case should not have been simply dismissed. He quoted approvingly Spanish criminologist Josep Tamarit Sumalla, that “some may use a crusade against the cults as a path towards the criminalization of minorities” (Tamarit Sumalla 2004:270).

The Court of Appeals urged Judge Lijo to hear the alleged victims and to conduct psychological and psychiatric tests through experts. On July 3, 2023, the expert examination of the nine alleged victims was concluded, with results signed in agreement by the court-appointed experts of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation and the experts on behalf of the parties, including those of the prosecution. The mental health experts found no traits of disorders in the women’s psychosexual sphere, and a total absence of indicators of submission, emotional dependence, lability, manipulation, or the assumption of a merely passive role in their interpersonal relationships. Ultimately, the results unanimously stated that the nine women were in good mental health, without any sign of vulnerability or posttraumatic alterations related to mental subjugation or sexual enslavement.

However, on August 17, 2023, the prosecutors filed a “supplementary report,” prepared by their expert witnesses, in which the latter argued that the nine women had misled even the experts because they were under “coercive persuasion.” Furthermore, they took as evidence of “coercive persuasion” the good relationship the women had between each other and with other BAYS students. The report was contested by each of the women mentioned, who refuted it point by point with demonstrable information. Again, the defense attorneys went to the Court of Appeals in a hearing held on October 10, 2023, in which the nine alleged victims were also present to request that their personal statements included in the case file be heard, as they had never suffered any crime and PROTEX was using them to increase its victim statistics. On December 7, 2023, through three parallel decisions, the Court of Appeals declared the nullity of the decree closing the preliminary investigation and the consequent elevation to trial of defendants and sent the case back to Judge Lijo, urging him to examine the results of the expert psychological examination of the victims (Sala 2 de la Cámara Nacional de Apelaciones en lo Criminal y Correccional Federal de Argentina 2023a, 2023b, 2023c). In another dissenting opinion, Judge Farah stated once again that he believed all the defendants should be acquitted and the case closed, while the other two judges argued that the issue of lack of crime should be dealt with only after a full exam of the psychological evaluations. On December 22, 2023, the prosecutors filed an appeal against the Court of Appeals decision of December 7 (Amicarelli 2023). This appeal was considered inadmissible by the Court of Appeals on February 8, 2024 (Sala 2 de la Cámara Nacional de Apelaciones en lo Criminal y Correccional Federal de Argentina 2024).

At the time of this writing, the case is still far from being concluded, notwithstanding Judge Farah’s comment that the women “victims” had been harassed enough. He wrote that the public exposure of private matters of the nine women concerning their personality, their intimacy, and their life choices was “more than enough to rule out the need for any further inquiry, interrogation or molestation in the future, which I reaffirm based on the impression I gathered from the statements made by these persons in the hearings held before the Court” (Sala 2 de la Cámara Nacional de Apelaciones en lo Criminal y Correccional Federal de Argentina 2023a, 43).  After the decision of February 8, 2024, Judge Lijo should examine the new evidence. After this, he may pronounce a new elevation to trial, but it will presumably be appealed again. In the case decided in 2000, these skirmishes went on for seven years. Proceedings in Argentina are now quicker, but the path towards a final decision will not be short.


Image #1: Juan Percowicz.
Image #2: Composers Susana Mendelievich, Mariano Krauz (left) and Rubén González (right) receiving a gift by the Ambassador of the Popular Republic of China, Yicong Xu, in Buenos Aires’ National Radio Auditorium, January 18, 1999.
Image #3: The café in the State of Israel Avenue building.
Image #4: Juan Percowicz in his younger years.
Image #5: BAYS explored various philosophies and religions. Here, on New Year Eve 1997, an interreligious encounter featuring Imam Mahmud Husain, Pastor Ricardo Couch (1928–2009), Father Alejandro Ferrari Freyre and Rabbi Arieh Stockman (from left to right).
Image #6: Percowicz greeting students and their families at a Christmas Eve dinner in the Café of State of Israel Avenue.
Image #7: A “Ghostbuster” (note the humorous logo on her pants) ceremonially places rue herb in a room.
Image #8: The therapies for relaxation and rest at CMI included artistic activities. On the picture, a student’s painting made during a “sleep cure” depicting the flowers on one of the CMI´s building terraces.
Image #9: Billboard placed at the entrance of the Sheraton Hotel on the occasion of the conference held there on June 5, 1992, which reads: “Buenos Aires Yoga School. The Pleasure of Evolving. Conference by the founding teacher Juan Percowicz: ‘Western Philosophy as an Alternative to the Scourges of Drugs, AIDS, and Violence.’”
Image #10: Sensationalist coverage of the first BAYS case in the Argentinian media.
Image #11: During the first legal case in the 1990s, several BAYS students gathered daily in front of the courts of justice to peacefully protest and ask the judge acting at that time, Mariano Bergés, to stop persecuting them.
Image #12: The police raiding the café on August 12, 2022.
Image #13: Scholars Holly Folk (center) and Susan Palmer (right) with musician Mariano Krauz (left) during their 2023 interviews at BAYS headquarters.
Image #14: During their three-month imprisonment, the BAYS detainees turned to art to keep themselves calm. One of them dedicated himself to drawing by hand daily situations in the cells, to which he added a philosophical phrase. In this picture, several of BAYS members in a tiny cell, with the quote “Incorrigible prisoner / that life imprisonment does not deter / and on iron and on stone / he goes and writes freedom”, by Argentinian poet Pedro Bonifacio Palacios “Almafuerte.”


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Publication Date:
27 February 2024