Oct 26, 2016

Agape Ministries's worth grows to more than $9 million while tax debt balloons to $11 million, court told


Exclusive - Chief Court Reporter Sean Fewster, The Advertiser

October 26, 2016

 

THE Agape doomsday cult’s pool of hidden assets has increased by $2.5 million to more than $9 million while its debt to the taxman is now a staggering $11 million, it can be revealed.

On Wednesday, a Supreme Court judge vowed to end the six-year saga, saying he was “already frustrated” after presiding over it for just 45 minutes.

The cult’s fugitive leader, Rocco Leo, his angry former followers and the Australian Taxation Office are each vying for control of the remains of the fallen financial empire.

Justice Martin Hinton gave the warring sides two weeks to prepare their best arguments, saying he wanted to resolve the complicated case by early 2017.

“I’ve only been hearing this matter for 45 minutes and I’m already frustrated, so I can’t imagine how other people are feeling,” he said.

“In 14 days, I expect to hear from all of you ... then I will decide whether we should just get on with it.

“Your chances of getting a judgment by Christmas, though, are remote at best.”

Agape’s assets were frozen in 2010 after a police raid uncovered its hidden caches of weaponry, and Leo and his inner circle fled overseas.

Lawsuits were believed to have dismantled the cult until last month, whenThe Advertiser revealed one offshoot, Universal Holdings Australia, still had $6.7 million in its bank accounts.

The ATO wants the money — to clear the cult’s tax debt — as do former parishioners seeking $2.5 million compensation over Leo’s claims of impending apocalypse.

Leo, however, insists the money was being held “in trust” for the parishioners, making it exempt from the ATO.

On Wednesday, Gillian Walker, for the ATO, said it had learned the cult still had properties worth up to $2.5 million in its control — meaning her clients were owed even more.

“The liability has increased significantly ... Leo (personally) owes $8.5 million of the $11 million my client is claiming,” she said.

Steven Mitchell, for Leo, said the ATO was “putting a gloss” on the case and said it was “extremely optimistic” to think the case would be resolved quickly.

He said that, because the ATO had failed to identity “the actual owners” of the $6.7 million, at least a portion of it should be released to Leo.

That money, he said, would be used to fund Leo’s battles against his tax debt in both the Supreme Court and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

“There has been, from the outset, a dispute as to who owns this money ... the ATO has failed to identify them, so the freezing order should be discharged,” he said.

Justice Hinton ordered the parties to file their arguments ahead of a one-day hearing in November.

THE SAGA OF AGAPE MINISTRIES

In May 2010, a police raid of Agape’s properties seized an arsenal of weapons, ammunition and explosives.

Former members alleged they were duped into handing over millions byclaims of human microchipping, mass-murder and government-run concentration camps.

They said they were promised sanctuary on “The Island”, a South Pacific location at which Leo would also heal the sick and profoundly disabled.

After the raid, Leo moved to Fiji and has remained there in defiance of an arrest warrant — meanwhile, all of his and the cult’s assets were frozen by court order.

In August 2010, The Advertiser revealed Agape’s financial empire spanned two states, eight properties and a fleet of 13 vehicles, with funds in 10 separate bank accounts.

In June 2012, the District Court awarded a disabled former parishioner $420,000 compensation and, two months later, awarded the ATO $3 million in money owed, plus costs.

In September 2014, BRI Ferrier was appointed to liquidate Agape’s assets to pay its debts.

In March 2015, seven former parishioners — some of whom publicly swore loyalty to Leo — sued him, seeking a refund of the $2.5 million they poured into his coffers.

In September 2016, The Advertiser revealed one of the cult’s offshoots still had $6.7 million in its bank account — sparking a three-way war for the cash.

 

http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/agape-ministriess-worth-grows-to-more-than-9-million-while-tax-debt-balloons-to-11-million-court-told/news-story/d4a915f6851bf2f94391c365dc701160

 

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