6 Dec 2010

After cult weapons seized South Australian Senator calls for mind control laws to protect families from psychological manipulation

AdelaideNow - Australia May 24, 2010

Cult raids prompt calls for mind-control laws

by Andrew Dowdell | AdelaideNow Reporter


SOUTH Australian police say they know where the leader of the Agape doomsday cult is hiding but are not ready to launch an arrest operation.

Agape leader Rocco Leo, is wanted over serious weapons offences following last week's raids on properties owned by the doomsday cult.

Detective Inspector Jim Jeffery has told ABC Radio that police have a good idea where Leo, 54, and his accomplices are hiding.

"We do know where they are ... we believe that they are offshore we have got to have all the grounds that we want to have and everything put together before we take any action in relation to those people," Det Supt Jeffery said.

Det-Supt Jeffery said police had not spoken to Leo and that public safety had been the main priority for detectives so far in the investigation.

He said police had no reason to believe that Leo or other wanted members would become violent.

"In our view no, not at this point in time (but it is) always concerning that there are firearms out there unaccounted for," he said.

"We are very satisfied at this point in time with the extensiveness of the searches we've conducted ... we are confident that wherever the firearms are now they're not going to be put to any aggressive use at this point in time."

Leo has reportedly encouraged members of the cult to sell property in preparation for a move to a tropical island in Vanuatu.

Det Supt Jeffery said police were still considering what charges Leo could face when arrested.

"What has to be understood here is that there is still a lot of forensic aspects to take place still working through many lines of inquiries to work out exactly what parties are playing what role in this whole situation," he said.

Meanwhile, independent Senator Nick Xenophon has called for the introduction of mind control laws to protect families from "psychological manipulation" by cults and sects.

Mr Xenophon has called for the implementation of laws similar to those in France, where "mental manipulation" is a crime that carries a maximum five-year prison term.

The SA Senator says last week's seizure of high-powered ammunition and firearms from the Adelaide Agape doomsday cult were proof that State and Federal Governments needed to take action against such groups.

"These groups are becoming more ruthless in their methods, and our laws need to keep up," Mr Xenophon said.

"Right now our laws simply don't protect adults and children caught up in sects from intense psychological manipulation. Many are losing their freedoms and their fortunes."

Relatives of Agape followers say cult members have been selling off possessions including their homes in recent months in preparation for a move to a South Pacific Island, where they will avoid the worldwide catastrophe which they believe will happen in 2012.

Mr Xenophon said such cults hid their illegal activities behind a "freedom of religion" argument and argued that mainstream religions would have nothing to fear from the introduction of mind control laws.

"Groups like the Church of Scientology loudly protested these laws in France, perhaps because they had so much to lose from them," he said.

"As for the weak claim the laws are undemocratic, I would respectfully say that I think the French know a thing or two about democracy."

Mr Xenophon said he would flag his suggestions with SA Attorney-General John Rau and his Federal counterpart Robert McClelland this week.

This article was found at:

http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/cult-raids-prompt-calls-for-mind-control-laws/story-e6frea6u-1225870476275

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Sydney Morning Herald - May 24, 2010

Xenophon calls for anti-cult laws

by SAMUEL CARDWELL


Australia should introduce anti-cult legislation similar to laws operating in France, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon says.

The South Australian senator has written to the federal and SA attorneys-general asking them to put the issue of cult law reform on the agenda of the next standing committee of the nation's law officers.

His calls for reform come one week after SA police raided 12 properties involved with the doomsday cult Agape Ministries, seizing explosives, guns and ammunition.

"What's occurred in South Australia in recent days ... indicates an urgent need for us to look at adopting French-style laws that will actually provide protection for individuals that have been caught up in these cults," Senator Xenophon told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

Cults had become more sophisticated and more dangerous, the Senator said."

"There is a lack of protection for individuals caught up in these cults."

The French laws, which have been in operation for nearly 10 years, allow judges to dissolve cults if their leaders are involved in criminal activity.

They also can ban cults from advertising, and from recruiting near schools, hospitals and retirement homes.

The laws also include an new offence called "mental manipulation" defined as exercising, within a group whose activities are aimed at creating or exploiting psychological dependence, heavy and repeated pressure on a person, or using techniques likely to alter an individuals judgement so as to induce them to behave in a way that is prejudicial to their interests.

The offence carries a fine of more than $100,000.

The French laws attracted criticism when they were introduced with many opponents calling them undemocratic.

Senator Xenophon does not agree, saying there was nothing democratic about people being caught up in cults.

"The fact is people's liberty is being taken away," he said, adding some had lost their life savings and had their lives destroyed.

"What would be undemocratic is not to act."


This article was found at:

http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/xenophon-calls-for-anticult-laws-20100524-w76e.html


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Sydney Morning Herald - Australia May 25, 2010

SA bikie laws may apply to cults

AAP

Parts of South Australia's anti-bikie laws could be used against cults like the Agape Ministries group, South Australian police commissioner Mal Hyde says.

Two people have been arrested and charged with firearms offences after police raided properties connected with the religious group, where offices seized explosives, guns and 80,000 rounds of ammunition.

Mr Hyde described the amount of ammunition which was found hidden inside bed frames and in shipping containers, as extraordinary.

He said it might be possible for aspects of the anti-gang laws, which relate to criminal organisations, to apply.

"People were concerned that the legislation was designed to target only bikies but we've always said it should be targeted at organised crime and dealing with crime, whether or not they ride a bike," Mr Hyde told ABC radio on Tuesday.

"So parts of it could be relevant and there's one component which allows for a declaration to be made for a criminal organisation.

"How it might ultimately work out and whether it applies in a situation like the Agape cult, time will tell.

"But there's a potential there. You would have to find substantial evidence of criminal behaviour to support any application for a declaration.

"It certainly wouldn't happen overnight."

Police are yet to speak with Agape Ministries leader Rocco Leo but said earlier this week they knew of his whereabouts along with his two key assistants.

With much of the ammunition and weapons found in shipping containers, officers believed the Agape leaders were planning to move their organisation offshore.

Investigations also centred on concerns that followers had donated large sums of money, with the core group of about 40-60 members selling up their houses and businesses and handing over the proceeds.

The group was understood to believe that the world will end in 2012 and South Australian Independent Senator Nick Xenophon said he warned the state government about the cult a month ago but got little response.

On Friday he called for the group's assets to be frozen and for tougher laws to deal with cults.

This article was found at:

http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/sa-bikie-laws-may-apply-to-cults-20100525-wamu.html

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Adelaide Now - The Advertiser Australia May 27, 2010

Pacific Islands hunt for cult leader Rocco Leo

by BRYAN LITTLELY | The Advertiser


FIJIAN immigration officials and the Vanuatu Christian Council are hunting fugitive doomsday cult leader Rocco Leo, after receiving information this week that the Agape Ministries pastor could have secretly entered their countries.

"Pastor" or "Brother Roc", as he is known in Fiji and Vanuatu, escaped the Australian Federal Police security network after raids on his Mt Magnificent compound and Adelaide properties uncovered a hidden cache of firearms and ammunition.

Raids by 90 police on a number of homes found 15 guns and 35,000 rounds of ammunition.

Members of the cult had shooting practice on a range at the Mt Magnificent compound in preparation for "doomsday" in 2012 when the cult would flee to a Vanuatu island stronghold.

Police have not released details of their investigations on Mr Leo's whereabouts, but Fiji's Immigration Department is investigating a report from Australian police suggesting he may have fled there.

Fiji's immigration director, Nemani Vuniwaqa, confirmed receiving the information on Mr Leo.

"We are trying to verify when and how he got into the country," Mr Vuniwaqa said yesterday.

"I have already assigned a team to conduct the investigations as we were not aware about him being in the country."

The Vanuatu Christian Council is on "full alert" for Mr Leo to re-enter rural villages he preached in last year.

Pastor Shem Tema said the council was working closely with government departments to discover if Mr Leo was in the country.

He told the Vanuatu Daily Post that Vanuatu's government had given the council authority to look into whether fugitives were "hiding" in the country and a threat to orderliness.

If so, it was the council's duty to advise the authorities to tell them to leave.

"Pastor Roc" claims to be a spiritual healer. He stayed in rural Luganville last year, accompanied by a man and a woman.

A Luganville resident said the man was hoping to get in contact with villagers to get "land for free" to build a church.

"He was charismatic and claimed to be a spiritual leader who healed people. He knew how to get through to the villagers," he said.

The concern is that villagers in Vanuatu can easily be swayed by any preacher who says he can heal. The Vanuatu Christian Council consists of five mother churches: Presbyterian, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Church of Christ and Apostolic.


This article was found at:

http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/pacific-islands-hunt-for-cult-leader-rocco-leo/story-e6frea83-1225871750459

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Herald Sun - Australia May 29, 2010

Aussie cult leader Rocco Leo in Vanuatu land grab

by Ilya Gridneff in Santos, Vanuatu | AAP


AUSTRALIAN doomsday cult leader Rocco Leo has visited Vanuatu several times to get villagers to donate their land as a safeguard against the apocalypse he says is coming.

Australian police are pursuing Leo, the leader of Agape Ministries, a heavily-armed cult based in South Australia, that says followers must move to Vanuatu before the end of the world, which he predicts will happen in 2012.

Last year, Leo, his girlfriend Marie Veneziano and her brother Joe visited Vanuatu's Santos island province, a 40-minute flight north of the capital Port Vila, and approached numerous people trying to broker land deals.

A local entrepreneur, Kenneth Iad, said in Santos he was the driver who ferried the trio around the island for meetings with various villagers.

"He called himself 'Pastor Rock' and he was here several times, everyone got to know him," Iad said.

"He told me God gave him the gift for healing and God told him to find a place to build a church for people to get healing.

"I took him all over the island to different people to talk about finding a place for his mission."

But Leo, described as a "charming and charismatic, fast talking preacher" was irked by the villagers' reluctance to part with their land.

"Here in Vanuatu it takes time to get customary land exchanged into privately owned," said Iad.

"You can't just take our land for free with a handshake," he added.

Another Santos businessman who wished to remain anonymous said the visiting group had created a "sensation".

"They spent a night or two at a hotel then would check into another in town," he said.

"We've had to work very hard to convince our workers that this guy 'Pastor Rock' was a conman because he created quite a lot of excitement about his claims he was from God and could heal people."

Vanuatu's Daily Post newspaper reported authorities were on the alert for the Agape Ministries group as Australian investigators fear they may have slipped out of the country.

Police are focusing on claims Agape followers handed over large sums of money to the cult leaders after a core group of 40-60 members sold their houses and businesses.

Last week South Australian police raided 12 properties associated with the cult and uncovered explosives, ammunition and weapons.

The raids involved 90 police officers and netted 15 guns, slow-burning fuses, detonators, extendable batons and 35,000 rounds of ammunition.

Vanuatu, a tax haven and popular Pacific tourist spot, is also home to the Prince Philip Movement, a cargo cult that started up in the 1950s in the southern island of Tanna.

Followers believe Queen Elizabeth's husband is a divine being who will soon return to their village.

This article was found at:

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/breaking-news/aussie-cult-leader-rocco-leo-in-vanuatu-land-grab/story-e6frf7jx-1225872023347

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Herald Sun - Australia May 31, 2010

Agape cult members were 'the chosen ones'

By Fiona McWhirter | Sunday Mail (SA)


THE leader of a doomsday cult was appointed in a message delivered to his "prayer warrior" father by Jesus, it has been claimed.

'Rocco Leo, pastor of the controversial Agape Ministries, and his brother Rino, were said to be "called" together about 15 years ago as their father's religious dedication paid off.

As the church grew, its Oakden base was bought, but it is understood the property has been closed since January.

Former stonemason Rino described his late father, Biagio or Billy, as a "prayer warrior" who devoted much of his time to his own prayer after he became unhappy with the church he was then in.

"Seventeen years later, Jesus appeared to him and he told him that he has a message for him, that the prayer is like a monument before him and `I (Jesus) came to give you the good news'," Rino said.

"So my father asked him, `What is it? What do you want to tell me?' He said `I've appointed two of your children, Rocco and Rino'.

"This is what my father said. Then he (Jesus) said they will be like Moses and Aaron, his brother. Miracles, signs and wonders will follow them anywhere they go - so that's what Jesus said."

According to Rino, 58, visions of Jesus regularly returned to his father to deliver messages and one of them was to find a place to worship.

In time, Rocco, 54, obtained the Oakden property.

Former members have claimed that, although the Oakden church was initially a "beautiful, perfect" place, as years passed, right-wing conspiracy theory videos started being shown and strict rules were introduced.

They also said gates at the church were unlocked only for a set period - about half an hour - ahead of services and anyone who missed their opening could not attend.

One former follower described churchgoers as "scared, paralysed" and said some people left the congregation before Rocco apparently closed the church on January 3.

He is thought to be in Fiji or Vanuatu, where it has been claimed he wanted to take his congregation.

Rino said he did not know where his brother was but, if he could speak to him, he would ask him to return.

"I will say to him, `Come back home, we miss you, we love you'," he said. As further details emerged about the "charismatic" leader, it was revealed Rocco Leo had left rent debts of $45,000 on a former city cafe.

Goods at the now-closed Butterflies Cafe, in Pirie St, have been seized in a bid to recoup the cash, after Rocco and possible co-lessee Joseph Veneziano failed to pay rent between November 1, 2009 and May 1.

Their names appeared on a notice of re-entry displayed in the window of the premises, described by a former member as the "brainchild" of Mr Veneziano's sister Mari, who was believed to be Leo's girlfriend.

A warrant to seize goods for the sum of $47,749.96 is also on display in the cafe's window, stating the debts comprise $44,999.96 in outstanding rent and $2750 in other costs.

In another business interest, Leo has been listed by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission as the director of E-Generation Pty Ltd, which its website describes as an internet and telecommunications company offering "e-sellers" the opportunity to start their own business for "just $149".

On January 4, when Leo was appointed director, the business address was changed to 102-132 Hilltop Drive, Oakden - the church's base.

Police are continuing to investigate Agape Ministries after 90 officers targeted premises linked to it, finding unsecured firearms and ammunition as well as detonators and explosives fuses.

Two men have been charged with firearms offences and another two with firearms-related offences.

A Fiji Police spokesman confirmed it had been notified Leo was in the country and officers were investigating. However, an SA Police spokeswoman said it was possible Leo had moved on to another Pacific island and police "will be aware of when he comes back into the country".


This article was found at:

http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/national/agape-cult-members-were-the-chosen-ones/story-e6frf7l6-1225873016387
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AdelaideNow - Australia June 3, 2010

Cult leader Rocco Leo told disabled woman that cash would save her

by KATE KYRIACOU


A "PROFOUNDLY vulnerable" wheelchair-bound disabled woman was told she would die a horrible death unless she handed her life savings to doomsday cult leader Rocco Leo.

And in exchange, he would bring her to a mystery island and miraculously help her walk again.

The startling claims have surfaced during civil action launched by Silvia Melchiorre, 37, against Leo and senior members of Agape Ministries, Joe and Marie Antoinette Veneziano.

Ms Melchiorre is suing the trio for $500,000, including the $420,000 she handed over after selling her house, lost rental income, costs and damages.

They have not been seen since police raided 13 properties associated with the cult last month, uncovering a cache of weapons and ammunition.

The District Civil Court was told her case would be the first of many involving followers of the Agape Ministries cult.

Ms Melchiorre was left in a wheelchair after suffering a series of strokes caused by a brain tumour, leaving her with a "restricted capacity to read and communicate".

The court was told that between 2008 and 2009, Leo and his fellow church leaders convinced her that the entire population of the world was about to be fitted with tiny microchips which the government would use to control people.

They told her that anyone who refused to have the "chip" inserted under their skin would be arrested and branded as terrorists.

"(They would be) rounded up by the government and confined to concentration camps where ultimately they would be exterminated," the document says.

"The government intended to begin rounding people up commencing in or about June 2010 and that unless the plaintiff escaped from Australia in May or June 2010, she would not be able to escape and ultimately would be killed in concentration camps either by gassing or being beheaded."

It was alleged Leo said her other option was to accompany members of the Agape Ministries to their South Pacific island, where she would be healed.

"The healing waters of The Island would cure the plaintiff and would be able to walk again," the statement of claim says.

In a recent hearing, Barrister David Riggall, for Ms Melchiorre, asked that Leo's bank accounts and assets be frozen while his whereabouts remained a mystery.

Mr Riggall said Leo had promised to return Ms Melchiorre's money but later fled when police executed a series of raids on properties linked to the Agape Ministries.

The matter will continue in court on June 16.

The court ordered Leo's assets and accounts be frozen until further notice.

Ms Melchiorre's family declined to comment.


This article was found at:

http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/cult-leader-rocco-leo-told-disabled-woman-that-cash-would-save-her/story-e6frea83-1225875216481

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AdelaideNow - Australia June 7, 2010

Agape Ministries Church not a doomsday cult: lawyer

By Sean Fewster, Court Reporter | The Advertiser


THE controversial Agape Ministries Church is "not a doomsday cult" and any claims to the contrary are "a load of rubbish", a criminal lawyer says.

Barrister Craig Caldicott held an impromptu press conference on the steps of the Adelaide Magistrates Court this afternoon.

He is representing Antonio Di Blasio - one of two men arrested during police raids on Agape Ministries properties last month.

Outside court Mr Caldicott said his client was innocent and would be acquitted at trial.

"There has been reference to a doomsday cult in all of this," he said. "My client has never been a member of a doomsday cult, he's never been a member of any cult, he is a Christian person.

"Agape Ministries is not a doomsday cult, and those who say it is have a vested interest in a media beat-up... it's a load of rubbish."

Di Blasio, 47, of Upper Sturt, has yet to plead to one count of acquiring a firearm without a permit and one count of possessing or using a prohibited weapon.

He was was arrested during police raids on Agape Ministries property which allegedly seized 15 illegal firearms, extendable batons and numerous rounds of ammunition.

Former members and opponents of Agape Ministries say it is a cult led by Pastor Rocco "Brother Roc" Leo who is currently being sought by police.

They claim Leo has defrauded millions from his followers, who believe life on Earth will end after microchips are implanted into everyone by the end of 2012.

In District Court transcripts, Leo claims his congregation embraced heavy security after being threatened by "heavily-armed Colombians".

In a lawsuit, disabled woman Silvia Melchiorre claims Leo tricked her out of $420,000 by promising he would heal her.

Today, Di Blasio's matter was adjourned until July.

Outside court, Mr Caldicott said his client had a licence for all of his firearms, which were registered and lawfully stored in locked containers.

"I believe police may have targeted him because of his association with Agape Ministries," he said.

"But if the authorities undertake decent investigations, they will get to the bottom of this and see my client is not a member of any doomsday cult.

"These are minor firearm offences, and that's all there is." He said he had not asked his client about his religious beliefs.

"As I understand it, Agape Ministries is a Christian organisation," he said. "To say they are all criminals would be like saying every member of the Uniting Church is a criminal if one of them were to be convicted of something."


This article was found at:

http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/agape-ministries-church-not-a-doomsday-cult-lawyer/story-e6frea6u-1225876563601

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