Buenos Aires, Argentina — The name of opera star Placido Domingo has emerged in an investigation into a sectarian organization in Argentina that also had offices in the United States and whose leaders have been charged with crimes including sexual exploitation.
Domingo, the Spanish opera singer who has been accused of sexual harassment by scores of women over the past three years, has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the Argentina case.
“Placido did not commit a crime, nor was he part of the organization, but rather a consumer of prostitution,” said a law enforcement official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because the investigation continues. Prostitution is not illegal in Argentina.
Law enforcement has carried out dozens of raids in Buenos Aires targeting the Buenos Aires Yoga School, which “has built a cult around its leader” and reduced members to “a situation of slavery and/or or sexual exploitation,” according to documents from prosecutors in the Argentine case against the school.
The organization has set up a commercial structure comprising offices in Argentina and the United States, as well as branches in at least three American cities: Las Vegas, Chicago and New York.
So far, 19 people have been arrested in Argentina, while at least three suspects are believed to be still at large inside the South American country and four are wanted in the United States.
Domingo has not spoken publicly about the latest developments, and his representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Wiretaps part of the forensic investigation recorded conversations in which a man identified by authorities as Domingo told a member of the group, identified as Susana Mendelievich, about meeting the opera star while he was in Buenos Aires for a series of concerts. in April.
The cult’s investigation has involved people with ties to the classical music world who have played with Domingo in the past, including Mendelievich, an Argentinian pianist.
Mendelievich is believed to be responsible for the organization’s sexual exploitation activities, according to a judicial official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
In one recording, the man identified as Domingo talks to Mendelievich about how she can go up to his hotel room undetected by his staff.
“When we leave dinner, we come separately, don’t we?” said the man identified as Domingo in the recording.
Mendelievich then speaks with Juan Percowicz, 84, who was the alleged leader of the group.
“He already called me and made the deal so I could stay at his hotel tonight without his agents realizing it,” she said.
During an earlier call with Percowicz, Mendelievich hints that she had previously met Domingo in New York.
“Among other things… Placido said he could come and visit us.” I mean, visiting us means coming to visit me because he’s coming to my house in New York, and he called me back yesterday,” the woman identified as Mendelievich can be heard saying in the recording.
Sex trafficking and exploitation were the main sources of income for the group, which had an estimated income of around $500,000 per month, according to the judicial official.
The Buenos Aires yoga school had numerous groups of women who were forced to maintain sex in exchange for money, prosecutors say. At least seven women were integrated into the group when they were still children or teenagers and were sexually exploited, according to the documents of the prosecution.
People have come from the United States to Argentina to have sex with the women and investigators say women have also been flown to Uruguay and the neighboring United States for sex.
“The encounters involved a practice of sexual slavery because the ‘students’ were made available to clients when and where they wanted, for long periods of time,” according to the documents.
The organization had ties to other well-known public figures and their names are expected to become public once the indictments are formalized, the judicial official added.
In addition to the alleged sexual exploitation, the group allegedly sold treatments, including what were called “sleep cures”, which involved giving people drugs that would make them sleep for days at a time.
Percowicz, along with other members of the group, were arrested on the orders of Judge Ariel Lijo, who placed dozens of goods and vehicles under embargo.
The organization had approximately 179 students, all classified into seven levels. Level advancement involved “spiritual evolution” with the goal of reaching the seventh level which involved “eternal reincarnation”.
In order to advance, members had to participate in numerous courses and complete tasks, with Percowicz holding the final decision on who could advance. The process involved socially isolating members of their “biological family” and friends, according to the charging documents.
The organization also offered “philosophical coaching” courses through a separate company, the BA Group, for those who had not yet joined the school. These courses on topics like “personal happiness” and “leadership” were often used to attract new members.
The organization was previously under judicial investigation in the early 1990s, but the investigation was closed before being brought to trial.
Domingo, now 81, was one of opera’s biggest and most successful stars and is the only living member of the Three Tenors, which included the late Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras.
Domingo’s image was tarnished in the United States after more than 20 women accused him, in articles published by the Associated Press, of sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior during meetings that took place from the late 1980s through the 2000s. Dozens of others in the classical music world told AP that his behavior was an open industry secret.
Investigations by the American Guild of Musical Artists and the Los Angeles Opera, where Domingo had served as general manager, found the sexual harassment allegations against him to be credible.
Accusations and subsequent discoveries interrupted Domingo’s career in the United States, but he continued to perform in Europe and Latin America. His website says he is currently touring Mexico with performances scheduled for later this month in Italy.
Associated Press writer Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed to this report.