US/World

‘Healer’ Infects with HIV Acupuncture: Fraud Arrested After Police Standoff

HIV Healer House
An unlicensed "healer" accused of infecting victims with HIV in acupuncture sessions was arrested after barricading himself in this house in Austria. Reuters

Police officers in Switzerland arrested an unlicensed natural medicine "healer" who may have deliberately infected 16 people with HIV using acupuncture needles, after he skipped his trial.

The case officially began last year, after a man suspected that he was infected with HIV in acupuncture sessions with the "healer." He reported his suspicion to a Bern hospital, who forwarded the claim to authorities. The victim launched a criminal complaint in 2005, and it took several years before investigation could pinpoint the acupuncturist.

The 54-year-old healer had been free on bail since August 2012, and denied the charges that he deliberately infected anyone with HIV or given acupuncture to anyone professionally. He is reported to be HIV-negative himself.

His court trial began on March 6 at the Bern-Mittelland regional court, but he stopped attending yesterday. Following Swiss criminal procedures, the man's name has not been publicly reported.

Reuters reported that the Swiss police stormed the healer's house on Friday morning after a 24-hour standoff, during which he repeatedly threatened to shoot the police with a gun. He was armed with a knife and had barricaded himself inside the house. Eventually, he was arrested along with an unidentified female companion who was also in the house.

Swiss news websites reported that most of the healer's victims who were infected with HIV were music students at a school run by the suspect, who ran an acupuncture practice on the side. The suspect had allegedly been infecting people with HIV in acupuncture sessions between 2001 and 2005.

World Radio Switzerland reported that all the victims tested positive for the same strain of HIV.

According to a University of Zurich scientist serving as an expert trial witness, the healer may have used a syringe to infect his victims with HIV, as acupuncture needles are seen as unlikely modes of virus transmission. It's also possible that he doped his victims so they would not notice his actions.

The suspect denied the multiple charges of spreading human diseases and grievous bodily harm, reports The Local. His defense lawyer told the media that the suspect had never taken blood from his pupils, and had only ever administered acupuncture to his wife when she had back problems.

The lawyer put forth a medical certificate, later deemed fake, purporting that the suspect missed his two court hearings because of extreme fatigue.

The trial is expected to last for three weeks. CBS News reported that his offenses carry maximum penalties of five and 10 years, and prosecutors expect that the healer will be sentenced to 15 years in prison for infecting his victims with HIV.

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