What to know about the sexual harassment cases against Bikram Choudhury, the founder of hot yoga who has allegedly fled the U.S. without paying his $7m lawsuit

By Julie Mazziotta
May 25, 2017 05:38 PM
Credit: Bob Riha, Jr./Getty

A Los Angeles judge signed off on a warrant for the arrest of Bikram Choudhury, the founder of hot yoga, on Wednesday, over suspicions that he fled the U.S. to avoid paying millions in damages to Minakshi Jafa-Bodden.

Jurors unanimously ordered Choudhury to pay Jafa-Bodden $7 million in damages in 2016, after she sued him for sexual harassment and unlawful termination. But so far, he hasn’t paid off any of his debt, according to court records obtained by PEOPLE.

Here’s what you need to know about Choudhury and the case.

Choudhury built an empire with Bikram yoga

A native of India, he opened his first yoga studio in Beverly Hills in the early 1970s. Choudhury eventually copyrighted his Bikram yoga system of 26 poses, performed in rooms heated to 105 degrees. Anyone looking to own a studio or teach Bikram yoga must complete a nine-week training program led by Choudhury.

RELATED VIDEO: Hot Yoga Founder Bikram Choudhury Ordered to Pay $7 Million in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

The Los Angeles district attorney’s office declined to prosecute him in 2013

In 2013, when there were four allegations against Choudhury, the district attorney’s office determined that there was insufficient information to charge him. Three women had accused him of sexual assault, and one of his female students alleged that he had raped her.

The first civil lawsuit came in 2013

More women started coming forward with stories of rape, sexual assault and harassment by Choudhury in 2013, which led to a total of six civil suits by Feb. 2015.

Sarah Baughn, one of his accusers, said many people in the yoga community tried to ignore the growing criticism against Choudhury, who was an icon to yogis and celebrities like Madonna, George Clooney, Brooke Shields and Jennifer Aniston.

“A lot of people have blinders on,” said Baughn told The New York Times in 2015, just after filing her lawsuit, in which she alleged that he had raped her. “This is their entire world. They don’t want to accept that this has happened.”

Jafa-Bodden was fired the same year

Jafa-Bodden, who says that Choudhury convinced her to leave India in 2011 to be his personal attorney, was fired two years later. She says Choudhury repeatedly sexually harassed her, made lewd comments about women and pushed her to cover up his sexual harassment during that time.

Jafa-Bodden says she was fired when she started looking into the other sexual harassment accusations against Choudhury.

Choudhury denied all sexual assault and harassment allegations

RELATED VIDEO: From CNN Newsource — Bikram Yoga Founder Speaks Out About Assault Claims

Choudhury said in 2015 that he would never need to assault or harass anyone for sex because “women love me.”

“If I really wanted to involve with the women, I don’t have to assault [them],” he told CNN. “I never assaulted them.”

Three of the cases against him are still pending

Jafa-Bodden was the first to win a case against Choudhury in Jan. 2016. Of the other six cases, three are still outstanding, and the others were settled out of court.

Choudhury is believed to be on the run

Authorities believe the yogi hid his money and fled the country. The warrant “will enable us to have [Choudhury] arrested in any country that is a member of the Hague convention,” Jafa-Bodden’s attorney, Carla Minnard, told PEOPLE, and his bail is now set at $8 million.

“We are going to pursue payment of this judgment no matter where he goes, no matter how much it costs and no matter how long it takes,” Minnard added. “We are going to get justice for Micki [Jafa-Bodden] and her daughter.”