4 Feb 2011

Australian doomsday cult leader remains fugitive from law, lawyer resigns, cult members and children still hiding

Adelaide Now - Australia January 22, 2011

Death threats blamed for court no-show

by Sean Fewster | The Advertiser

Lesley Baligod and her son, Joel, leave Holden Hill Magistrates Court yesterday after Rocco Leo failed to turn up. Picture: Chris Mangan. Source: AdelaideNow

IT was supposed to be judgment day for Rocco Leo, but the cult leader has chosen to remain a fugitive because of threats made on his life.

The Advertiser has learnt Leo chose not to attend court yesterday because of death threats - and against the advice of lawyers who have now resigned from the case.

Meanwhile, the estranged families of devout Agape believers say their loved ones have vanished interstate.

Lesley Baligod said she feared for her son Raphael Azariah who, she believed, was preparing to move overseas.

"My son, his wife and my grandchildren have moved to Victoria," Mrs Baligod said.

"The whole rest of the group that was here in Adelaide are leaving this Saturday, and we understand they are going overseas.

"We believe Rocco Leo has finally found himself an island, or manipulated someone somewhere into allowing him what he wants."

Last July, Mr Azariah denied Agape was a doomsday cult and said he had "never heard anything" about members fleeing to an island.

Calls to his home went unanswered yesterday - a recorded message says the phone number "is not connected".

Leo, 54, has yet to plead to allegations he assaulted a parishioner's estranged husband at Adelaide Airport, then lied to police about it, last April.

In November, the Holden Hill Magistrates Court warned an arrest warrant would be issued if Leo failed to appear. Yesterday, lawyer Casey Isaacs asked permission to withdraw from the case.

"The need for Leo to attend court was communicated to him by us, but he is not here," he said.

"Our position has been compromised, and we are no longer in a position to adequately press the matter."

Magistrate Yoong Chin granted permission and issued a warrant for Leo's arrest.

He further ordered Leo not be eligible for bail upon his arrest.

The Advertiser understands Leo has not spoken to his lawyers since November, and decided against facing court after receiving death threats.

Leo is also contesting three civil claims.

Two lawsuits, worth $1.9 million, were filed by former parishioners.

They say they were duped by his apocalyptic tales of human microchipping, government control and concentration camps.

The Australian Taxation Office is pursuing Leo for more than $4.1 million in unpaid taxes. The office alleges he "juggled" a further $5.6 million between his accounts "in a crude attempt to hide money".

This article was found at:



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1 comment:

  1. Note from Perry Bulwer: The first link in the Related Articles section above refers to 12 missing children. I have not seen any follow-up media reports on those children and if they are safe or not.
    Agape doomsday cult's financial empire dismantled, ordered to pay taxman $3 million

    by Chief Court Report Sean Fewster, AdelaideNow
    August 13, 2012

    THE Agape doomsday cult's financial empire will be carved up by the taxman following a $3 million court judgment.

    This morning, the District Court ordered the controversial group and its fugitive founder, Rocco Leo, settle their debts with the Australian Taxation Office.

    For two years, the ATO has pursued Agape, Leo and his confidante, Joe Veneziano, for amounts left unpaid since 2009.

    It stripped Agape of its tax-exempt status as a religion and froze its assets - eight properties, 13 vehicles and 10 bank accounts in SA and Victoria.

    Auditors sought $4.1 million, claiming Leo had "juggled" a further $5.6 million between his accounts in a "very crude attempt to hide money".

    Previously, the court has heard Leo and his inner circle of followers are in Fiji.

    In June, he was ordered to pay a disabled former parishioner $420,000 compensation over claims he duped her with tales of human microchipping and global Armageddon.
    Today, Stephen Lynton, for the ATO, said the nature of the case had changed.

    He told the court new calculations had found Leo owed $2.4 million, Veneziano owed $1.1 million while Agape Ministries' debt was just $17,952.20.

    Sam Doyle, for the defendants, said his clients would not oppose any order they pay those amounts.

    He said the ATO should pay his clients' court costs due to the "significant changes" in the case.

    "(Leo's) debt increased from $1.6 million to $2.3 million but the amount owed by Agape went down," he said.

    "That goes to the very centrepiece of our claim in this matter: that the old assessments (of debt) were not properly done."

    Mr Doyle said his clients also wanted access to the remainder of their funds now that the case had concluded.

    Master Peter Norman said they would have to file a new application with the court.

    He ordered the ATO be repaid and reserved his decision on costs.