Newark officials hoodwinked by delegates of fictional country of Kailasa

<span>Photograph: Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images

The city of Newark, New Jersey, has confirmed that it was duped over five days in January when Mayor Ras Baraka invited what he believed to be a delegation from the Hindu nation of Kailasa to join into a sister city partnership.

A signing ceremony was held at which Baraka told a Kailasa delegate: “I pray that our relationship helps us to understand cultural, social and political development and improves the lives of everybody in both places.”

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But it turned out that Baraka, who was once featured on singer Lauryn Hill’s 1998 The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and Newark’s city council were all being taken for a ride. Kailasa doesn’t exist.

Last week, the Newark city hall acknowledged that it had been scammed by notorious Indian fugitive Swami Nithyananda. The agreement to twin with Kailasa had lasted but six days, Newark officials said, before being dissolved as “baseless and void”.

“Although this was a regrettable incident, the city of Newark remains committed to partnering with people from diverse cultures in order to enrich each other with connectivity, support and mutual respect,” a city spokesperson said, adding that no money had changed hands.

Shakee Merritt, a resident of Newark, later told CBS he was surprised that “no one in City Hall, not one person did a Google search, so maybe we need a transformation of City Hall ’cause not one person said, let me go and Google and figure out this was a fake city”.

A search for “Kailasa” on Google Maps reveals some Hindu temples in the southern half of India and a link to a website promoting the nation as an “ancient enlightened civilization, the great cosmic borderless Hindu nation” and a reference to Nithyananda as “the Reviver”.

But Nithyananda is a notorious scam artist who has been a fugitive from justice since 2019 when he was charged with rape and child abduction charges, according to reports from Indian news outlets. Nithyananda has denied the accusations.

Around the same time, Nithyananda announced the formation of Kailasa and claimed to have bought an island off the coast of Ecuador.

In December, the Guardian reported that representatives for the fugitive guru had attended a Diwali party at Britain’s House of Lords.

Earlier this month, the United Nations said it would ignore statements made by the representatives of Nithyananda at two UN committee meetings in Geneva in February.

Kailasa delegates, the BBC reported, joined a discussion on the representation of women in decision-making systems and a second on sustainable development.

Vivian Kwok, a media officer at the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights, later said submissions made by delegates to the first discussion were “irrelevant to the topic of the general discussion”. A statement to the second meeting “was tangential to the topic at hand”, she said.