This is one for the books. Over the weekend, Indian police in the state of Himachal Pradesh detained Ugyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa lama, for questioning about some $1.6 million in undeclared foreign currency. In wild speculation, one official even suggested that the funds might indicate that the second-most important religious figure in Tibetan Buddhism is a Chinese mole--which would shed a weird new light on his dramatic overland escape to India in 1999.
So is there any fire behind the (thin) smoke? Probably not. India's Tibetan community gets tens of thousands of foreign visitors every year, and every tourist who walks into one of the shrines stuffs a few foreign notes into the donation box before he or she decides whether or not to bow down in front of the idol (most do, I've noticed, though I'm always curious if they're praying or just thinking how cool it would be if somebody snapped a photo). And even if a goodly part of the undeclared funds IS in yuan, as the police say, there's no link to connect it with the Chinese government so far. (As the Indian media started the usual frenzy, the PRC decided to step in and deny involvement, occasioning a McCarthy era style headline: "China Denies Karmapa Is Its Spy".)
Nevertheless, the exposure of so-called "black money" among the Black Hats may tarnish the image of India's most beloved refugees, even though nearly every Indian has safe deposit boxes stuffed with untaxed funds sprinkled around their home city, and newspaper stories are a dime a dozen about real estate brokers robbed of up to $50,000 in cash.