A California judge issued an arrest warrant this week for Bikram Choudhury, the founder of the hot yoga practice and owner of a global yoga empire, after he failed to pay a $6.8 million judgement his former legal adviser won against him, authorities said. Choudhury, who has faced a series of sexual assault claims, said last year that he was nearly bankrupt and reportedly left the country.
Here’s what you need to know about him:
Choudhury made millions by creating Bikram Yoga
Choudhury, who grew up in one of India’s poorest states, became India’s yoga champion at age 23. He moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, setting up his first eponymous hot yoga studio in 1973.
Held in a climate-controlled environment of 105 degrees fahrenheit, Bikram Yoga sessions last for 90 minutes and consist of a series of 26 postures and two breathing sequences. Choudhury popularized the method in his first book, Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class, which was published in 1978.
The self-made millionaire’s method quickly became popular in health-loving Hollywood, with celebrity practitioners including George Harrison, Ashton Kutcher, George Clooney and Lady Gaga.
He has sued competitors he accused of copying Bikram Yoga
For years, Choudhury claimed that his specific Bikram Yoga practice was under copyright and could not be taught by anyone he hadn’t authorized. In 2011, he filed a lawsuit against the popular yoga chain Yoga to the People, for using his trademarked series of poses in a 105-degree room. But in 2015, a federal appeals court disagreed and ruled that Choudhury’s method was not protected by copyright law, so competitors could not be held liable for teaching it.
In another case, in 2015, he accused Evolation Yoga, a Florida-based studio, of copyright violations. A three-judge Court of Appeals panel disagreed, saying his sequence could not be protected by copyright law.
He has faced a series of sexual assault claims
In 2013, Sarah Baughn sued Choudhury for sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination. She claimed Choudhury attacked her at a Bikram teacher training program in 2008.
Baughn was one of six women who filed lawsuits against Choudhury and Bikram’s Yoga College of India, accusing them of sexual battery, gender violence, false imprisonment and other wrongdoing. Choudhury released a statement in March 2013 in response to one of the first lawsuits, saying he was “disappointed by the false charges,” and he subsequently denied sexually assaulting anyone.
He was ordered to pay nearly $7 million to his former legal adviser
In January 2016, Choudhury was ordered to pay punitive damages of $6.5 million as well as $924,000 in compensation to his former legal adviser, Minakshi Jafa-Bodden.
Jafa-Bodden had filed a lawsuit in 2013 for breach of contract and wrongful termination in which she claimed that her former boss had “created a hypersexual, offensive and degrading environment for women by, among other things, demanding that female staffers brush his hair and give him massages,” International Business Times reported. She said she was fired when she refused to help him cover up a rape allegation.
Choudhury denied any wrongdoing and told jurors he had to “borrow money from my family and friends” — thought he also said under cross-examination that he kept a fleet of up to 40 luxury cars, including Bentleys and Ferraris, in a Van Nuys garage. After being ordered to pay punitive damages, authorities believe Choudhury left the country, ABC News reports.
A judge issued an arrest warrant for him
On May 24, a California judge issued an arrest warrant for Choudhury, who has not paid the punitive damages won by Jafa-Bodden. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Edward Moreton issued the warrant and set bail at $8 million, the Associated Press reports.
Jafa-Bodden attorney, Carla Minnard, says they’ve tracked luxury vehicles and other property that Choudhury moved out of state and have court orders in Nevada and Florida preventing him from moving property out of warehouses there.
“It’s been a long road chasing this guy down,” Jafa-Bodden’s attorney, Aaron Osten, told the Washington Post. “I don’t want to say it’s done, but it’s awfully close, because he’s got nowhere else to go.”