By Sugam Pokharel and Tara John, CNN
(CNN) – A controversial spiritual leader, whose supporters believe he is the reincarnation of Buddha, has been arrested in Nepal over sexual abuse charges, according to local police.
Ram Bahadur Bomjan, popularly called ‘Buddha Boy’ in local media, was arrested Tuesday evening while “absconding in the case of sexual exploitation of a minor,” the police said in a statement.
An arrest warrant against him was issued in 2020, according to the statement, “in the case of sexual abuse of a minor girl,” who was allegedly living as a nun at his ashram in the Bara district, south of the capital Kathmandu.
CNN has been unable to reach Bomjan for comment and was not able to determine if he has a lawyer.
Acting on a tip off, police say they tracked the 34-year-old to the outskirts of Kathmandu and “arrested him while he was trying to flee,” the statement added. They say they also seized more than a dozen mobile phones, five laptops and tablets, and more than $200,000 in Nepali and foreign currencies at his home.
This comes nearly two decades after he first gained international attention. In 2005, at the age of 15, he retreated into the jungle to pray for 10 months, local media reported at the time. His followers once claimed that he did so without food, sleep or water.
Those claims were never independently verified, but it led some to laud him as the reincarnation of Siddhartha Gautama, who was born in Nepal some 2,500 years ago, and later became known simply as Buddha, meaning “enlightened one.”
Bomjan’s “Buddha Boy” moniker helped to further his fame, as thousands from across the country and neighboring India traveled to see him while he was in the jungle.
Bomjan began preaching about two years later attracting an audience of about 3,000 people during his first sermon, according to his website. He and his supporters then set up a network of ashrams around Nepal dedicated to his teachings.
But in recent years, Bomjan has been dogged by allegations of wrongdoing. His ashram was raided in 2019 while investigating the disappearance of four of his followers.
Police on Wednesday said “further investigations and searches are being conducted regarding the followers who have disappeared from Bomjan’s ashram at various times.”
The sexual abuse charges relate to a nun, who in 2018 publicly accused him of raping her at one of his ashrams when she was a minor.
At the time, officials at Bodhi Shrawan Dharma Sangha, the organization that manages Bomjan’s ashrams, denied the rape allegations in a news conference, calling them “completely made-up.”