Thursday, May 20, 2010

South Australian Police Raid 'Doomsday Cult' Properties


adelaidenow - They believe the Apocalypse is looming in 2012, but for the leaders of the Agape Ministries cult, their world yesterday tumbled down.

After 90 heavily armed police swooped on 12 properties owned by the sect in Adelaide and south of the city, three church elders were last night being sought by police.

Church leader Rocco Leo - known to his congregation as Brother Rock - was among those whose whereabouts were last night unknown.

Leo, 54, has a criminal record for running a brothel in the 1980s. Former members say he is behind a fraud involving millions of dollars donated by sect members.

Those sect members are required to pass on 10 per cent of their earnings.

The Agape Ministries believes the world will end in 2012, and has attracted several hundred people to its "House of God" at Oakden, in Adelaide's northeast.

Police charged four men after the raids yesterday and on Wednesday, but are still seeking at least three senior members.

"Police have not been able to locate the leaders of Agape Ministries or its key personnel," Superintendent Jim Jeffery said.

"We don't know of their whereabouts (but) there's nothing to cause us to believe they are not in Australia."

Supt Jeffery said police were concerned that while ammunition was found in the raids, high-powered guns believed to be possessed by the cult were missing.

An Upper Sturt man, 46, will face Adelaide Magistrates Court and a Mt Compass man, 49, will appear in Christies Beach Magistrates Court next month. Two other men - one, 38, of Oakden, the other, 48, of Aberfoyle Park - were reported for firearm offences and will be summoned to appear in court later.

Fifteen illegal firearms and extendable batons were found in the raids, while Major Fraud detectives also seized financial records.

A core group of about 60 believed the cult leaders would use their money to buy a Pacific Ocean island to build a Christian colony for the congregation, police said.

A former cult member has told The Advertiser that church members are brainwashed into believing that life on Earth will end after microchips are implanted into everyone by the end of 2012.

Supt Jeffery would not say if money was seized in the raids but he said the ministry had built up a substantial fund from pledges by the congregation.

He said some members had sold their homes and given the proceeds to the church to buy the Pacific Island colony.

He said police believed church leaders had been making arrangements to move offshore.

Information from former Agape church followers and the criminal history of "some of the people involved" sparked the investigation, which included federal police and Customs dogs specially trained in locating firearms and ammunitions.

Two weapons and two batons were located at the church's main headquarters in Oakden - which was bought by Mr Leo for about $500,000 but put on the market recently for $5 million.

Batons, fuses, detonators, detonator cords and about 20,000 rounds of high-powered ammunition was found at a church-owned property on Blackfellows Creek Rd, Mt Magnificent, east of Mt Compass.

Supt Jeffery said the ammunition was hidden inside the steel frames of bedheads and also in shipping containers..

"By the looks of the shipping containers there, they were having plans to relocate overseas but, of course, we don't know the reasons for stockpiling weapons or why they secreted ammunition inside those containers," Supt Jeffery said. "High-powered ammunition is very concerning and we haven't located the firearms that go with that ammunition, which is very concerning."

At the Oakden church yesterday, neighbour and businessman George Kruszewski said one hectare of land was offered for sale to him for $5 million about three months ago, by church "financier' John Mouhalos.

Last month, Mouhalos walked free from the District Court on a suspended sentence over a 2007 assault of a man who borrowed money from him, as well as over the discovery of two pistols inside his car.

In sentencing, Judge Paul Cuthbertson found that Rocco Leo - who gave evidence in Mouhalos' defence - was an "unbelievable" witness.

Mr Kruszewski said Mouhalos also said he could organise business loans of $10 million upwards and that the church owned properties in Queensland, Melbourne and the leaders were considering buying a island outside Australia.

"It's probably more of a business than a cult . . . the inner circle of people there seemed to be involved in finance and business and that sort of thing," he said.

The inside of the ageing building, which was originally part of the Hillcrest Mental Hospital, was renovated and furnished with expensive chandeliers, marble benches and other equipment plus a "huge" warehouse at the back", Mr Kruszewski said.

"It's not the sort of place you'd say looked like a church when you've got lots of building materials, coldrooms and a commercial kitchen in there," he said.

He said Leo and Mouhalos had been friendly and welcoming when they first moved in but the group had become progressively "secretive" and kept "a low profile" in recent years.

Mr Kruszewski said about 100 people attended the Sunday church meetings with about 50 cars parked inside a large locked iron gate. He had attended several Sunday meetings in which "Brother Rock" had preached from the Bible.

"He was putting himself up as a great healer and a person who's got authority," he said.

"It didn't attract me, I could see right through it."

Several neighbours said four German shepherd guard dogs always patrolled inside the fence at Oakden.

Meanwhile, at the cult's Mt Magnificent property, an "Exclusion Notice - by order of the High Court of Australia" on the front gate suggested a lack of hospitality.

With at least six main buildings and a stern warning that trespassers risked a $500,000 fine, it is unlikely any lost hiker would find their way on to the retreat, situated near Mt Compass south of Adelaide.

Yesterday, the only people to pass the private property notice were police, who spent the afternoon scouring the farm for firearms and other evidence.

A police diving team searched the murky depths of a large dam before moving to a rusting rainwater tank.

Children's play equipment was set up metres from dormitory-style accommodation, although neighbours said they had only noticed adults come and go.

"They never come near us," dairy farmer Geoff Anderson said.

"We wouldn't have spoken two words in two years ... they're some kind of doomsday mob that's all I've heard."

Mr Anderson said he had heard gunshots from the property but not enough to rouse suspicion.

South Australian Police Raid 'Doomsday Cult' Properties

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