Today Bloomberg, a business publication, published a tell-all story about Gurinder Singh Dhillon's hugely complicated, and ethically dubious, financial dealings with Shivinder and Malvinder Singh, nephews of the Radha Soami Satsang Beas guru.
Download The Billionaires and The Guru: How a Family Burned Through $2 Billion - Bloomberg
Ari Altstedter wrote the story, "The Billionaires and the Guru: How a Family Burned Through $2 billion." I spoke with Altstedter by phone about the 35 years I spent as a RSSB devotee, and was quoted in the piece.
Still, Dhillon hails from a family of major landowners in Punjab, and was himself a businessman in Spain prior to his ascension at the spiritual group. So he took an active interest in the Singhs’ holdings, the people said.
“I think he’s a businessman in his mind first, and a guru second,” said Brian Hines, an American who was a member of the sect’s U.S. community for 35 years and has visited Beas. He now blogs critically about it, having since left.
Anyone who reads the story would find it difficult to argue with what I said.
Altstedter lays out in convincing detail how the Dhillon family has enriched itself while Gurinder Singh Dhillon has been the RSSB guru, an organization that has published a book, "Honest Living," whose ethical tenets go against the sort of shady business dealings described in the story.
Here's some excerpts concerning the Dhillon family's real estate investments.
By 2010, another business opportunity emerged. Towns outside India’s capital, New Delhi, were experiencing a property boom that was turning farmers into millionaires. The Singhs’ resources were marshaled to help the Dhillon family build a real-estate empire.
Two companies, Prius Real Estate Private Ltd. and Lowe Infra and Wellness Private Ltd., were set up by people close to the guru, and although partly hidden by layers of shell companies, the Dhillon family had ownership interests in both, people familiar with the matter said and filings show.
Over the next two years, these firms together received about 20 billion rupees in zero-interest loans from the Singhs’ private holding company or its subsidiaries, according to the people and the documents. Funds were then disbursed to other companies controlled by the Dhillons. The Singhs owned a 51 percent stake in Lowe.
These loans proved costly to the Singhs, coming on top of other major financial commitments that were underway. From 2011 onwards, the brothers’ holding company went on to sink at least 12 billion rupees to cover losses at their investment banking venture Religare Capital Markets Ltd. Other loans went to Ligare Voyages Ltd., a money-losing charter airline.
The Singhs’ holding company also loaned at least 7 billion rupees to cover losses at a firm that had been spun out of Religare to manage the financial firm’s administrative costs. The loss-making firm’s biggest expense was rent, much of which was paid to buildings owned by the guru’s family, according to documents and people familiar with the matter.
In some cases, Religare had no use for all the space it was leasing from the guru’s buildings and large parts sat empty, the people said and internal documents show.
RHC, the holding company, also made personal loans of 5 billion rupees to Dhillon family members, via a network of shell companies, people familiar with the matter said.
The Singhs funded all these outlays to the guru’s businesses and to their own ventures with borrowing. And a substantial portion came from Fortis and Religare, often through the same network of shell companies used to lend to the guru’s family, people familiar with the matter said.
Taken together, the zero-interest loans to Dhillon firms and Singh investments gone bad created a crushing debt load that required even more borrowing to service. Their total borrowings hit about $1.6 billion by March 2016, filings show.
The Bloomberg story has an illustration of how large amounts of money were shuffled back and forth via various actual and shell companies in efforts to keep the financial empire of the Singh brothers and Dhillon family afloat.
Note that the four arrows on the right side of the illustration show investments and loans flowing to entities affiliated with the guru's family. The three cross-hatched arrows on the rightmost side are loans associated with the guru, which total 25 billion. I assume this is 25 billion rupees, which equal $357 million dollars.
So, yes, the guru is indeed acting much more like a businessman than a guru. And a rather shady businessman at that, given the revelations in the Bloomberg story.
A few days ago I published a post, "Gurinder Singh completely upends Sant Mat dogma," that described how Gurinder Singh Dhillon is acting like an earthy Zen master these days, not a guru with mystical powers who guides disciples to a heavenly region known in RSSB teachings as Sach Khand.
This fits with Gurinder Singh's upending of how a RSSB guru is supposed to act: humbly, earning his own living in an honest manner, not being concerned with amassing worldly wealth but rather with spreading spiritual wisdom.
I have no problem with Gurinder Singh Dhillon and his family making huge amounts of money.
I just have said, and will keep on saying, that this has been done while the guru supposedly was giving most of his attention to the spiritual elevation of RSSB disciples, and clearly this hasn't been the case.
UPDATE: Here's a link to a "mirrored" Business Standard story, "How Malvinder and Shivinder Singh burned through $2bn for their guru," plus a Mint story in both JPG and PDF form.