US 'sex slave guru' who branded victims nabbed in Mexico

NEW YORK (AFP) - An American "self-help" guru who presided over a secretive society of women sex slaves branded with his initials is due in court on Tuesday (March 27), five months after fleeing to Mexico.

Keith Raniere, 57, from Waterford, New York, is known as "The Vanguard". He is charged with sex trafficking and conspiracies that could see him jailed for between 15 years and life if convicted, US prosecutors said on Monday.

The FBI and Mexican police tracked him down on Sunday to a luxury villa on the Pacific coast, following his escape to Mexico with an unnamed heiress after The New York Times exposed the organisation last October.

He is due to appear in a Texas court on Tuesday.

FBI senior official William Sweeney accused Raniere of displaying "a disgusting abuse of power in his efforts to denigrate and manipulate women he considered his sex slaves".

The case involved "serious crimes against humanity", said Mr Sweeney, "and we are putting an end to this torture today."

Raniere set up supposed self-help workshops called "Executive Success Programmes" in 1998, whose umbrella organisation Nxivm has operated in Canada, Mexico, South America and the United States, and recruited in Brooklyn, officials said.

Participants paid up to US$5,000 (S$6,542.50) for a five-day workshop, with members often required to sign non-disclosure agreements, US prosecutors said.

Each August, they also paid $US2,000 to gather in the New York lakeside hamlet of Silver Bay to honour Raniere for his birthday.

Carrying on polyamorous relations from the start, in 2015 he is accused of creating a secret society called "DOS" - a pyramid scheme of women "slaves" and "masters" with Raniere - the sole man - alone at the top.

Members were allegedly told that they would be empowered, but were instead treated as slaves - branded with Raniere's initials on their pelvic areas while being pinned down naked and filmed at initiation ceremonies.

As a pre-condition of joining, women allegedly had to provide "collateral" such as damaging information about friends and family, nude photographs and rights to their assets, which they feared they would lose if they did not have sex.

Some were forced onto low-calorie diets as Raniere preferred exceptionally thin women, and none were allowed to sleep with anyone but him, prosecutors said.

Slaves were also required to fetch coffee and groceries, make lunch and clean the houses of their "masters", officials alleged.