Sep 5, 2014

SA court appoints receivers to liquidate and dismantle financial empire of Agape doomsday cult

September 4, 2014
The Australian

FUGITIVE doomsday cultist Rocco Leo has finally lost control of his financial empire, with a court today placing it in the hands of receivers after years of legal battle.

District Court Judge David Lovell today appointed insolvency firm BRI Ferrier as liquidators of Agape Ministries’ properties, including its former compound at Kuitpo.

The ruling ends the four-year Agape saga and ensures the Australian Taxation Office and disabled former Agape worshipper Sylvia Melchiorre will receive all they are owed by Leo.

Agape Ministries first made headlines in May 2010 when a police raid of its properties seized an arsenal of weapons, high-powered ammunition and explosives.

Leo, the cult’s leader, moved to Fiji and has remained there in defiance of a Holden Hill Magistrates Court warrant for his arrest on charges of assault.

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

Leo and his inner circle, Joe and Mari Antoinette Veneziano, were also named in several lawsuits seeking the return of moneys paid into the cult.

Former members alleged they were duped into handing over up to $1.2 million each byclaims Earth’s population would be impregnated with tiny microchips containing their personal information.

They claimed Leo said those who refused the chip would be branded terrorists and be gassed or beheaded in government-run concentration camps.
Leo allegedly warned that those people who chose to be micro-chipped would also die from slow-release poison hidden within the devices.

Ms Melchiorre, who is profoundly disabled, further claimed Leo promised to keep her safe on “The Island”, a South Pacific location where he would also heal her.

She was subsequently awarded $420,000 compensation, while the ATO was granted $3 million in taxes owed.

Agape was to sell its properties to pay those debts but, despite having a year to act, failed to do so — Ms Melchiorre and the ATO called for liquidators to be appointed.

In June, Judge Lovell gave the cult one final chance to settle its own affairs but, despite a series of auctions, the properties failed to sell.

Today Gillian Walker, for the ATO, said the court must intervene because Agape was continuing to delay its judgment day.

“We and Ms Melchiorre’s counsel have suggested lowering the minimum sale prices for the properties, on the basis of the recommendations of real estate agents,” she said.

“Agape has refused to reduce its reserve prices ... the properties have not been sold and the actions we’ve suggested have not been taken.

“A considerable amount of time has been allowed to explore post-auction interest but it seems the attitude of Agape is the issue ... we say receivers should be appointed.”

Judge Lovell agreed and made the order.


  • 20 May, 2010: SA Police raid the Agape Ministries compound at Kuitpo and seize ammunition, high-powered weapons and explosives.
  • 21 May, 2010: Further raids uncover more weaponry — including ammunition stored inside metal bed frames — while police continue searching for cult leader Rocco Leo and his inner circle.
  • 22 May 2010: The Advertiser reveals Leo once gave evidence in court, after refusing to swear on the Bible, about being “threatened by heavily-armed Columbians”.
  • 23 May 2010: Former parishioners reveal they were being trained in marksmanship to protect their “Holy Land Hideout” from impending armageddon.
  • 27 May 2010: The search for Leo shifts to the South Pacific, the same region in which he claimed “The Island” would provide protection for the faithful.
  • 3 June 2010: Profoundly disabled former parishioner Sylvia Melchiorre sues Agape, saying it duped her out of her life savings with promises of miracle healing that will help her walk again.
  • 28 June 2010: The Australian Tax Office reveals Agape received tax breaks for 10 years because of its official status as a religion.
  • 1 July 2010: Agape faithful Raphael and Patricia Azariah speak publicly to The Advertiser, insisting their faith is not apocalyptic and they are normal Christians.
  • 2 July 2010: E-mails, allegedly sent by Leo, accuse authorities of framing the cult and “witch-hunting” its leadership.
  • 3 July 2010: SA Police launch investigation into allegations Leo assaulted the former husband of a parishioner in an incident at Adelaide Airport before he fled the country.
  • 8 July 2010: The mother and brother of Raphael Azariah make a public appeal for him to leave the cult and return to them. It goes unanswered.
  • 5 August 2010: Senior Agape member John Mouhalos is reported missing. In court, lawyers acting for Leo offer to “refund” Ms Melchiorre’s life savings.
  • 16 August 2010: The Advertiser reveals the scope of Agape’s two-state, multi million-dollar empire of cars, properties and bank accounts.
  • 21 August 2010: Agape countersues another former member, Martin Penney, who is seeking reimbursement of the money he paid into the cult.
  • 16 November 2010: Leo publicly vows to return to SA to face the assault case, which is proceeding before the Holden Hill Magistrates Court.
  • 18 November — 23 November, 2010: The ATO strips the cult of its tax-exempt status, succeeds in having Agape’s assets frozen and tells the District Court it is owed $4 million.
  • 3 December 2010: The ATO tells the court Leo tried to “hide” a further $5.6 million from its accountants by moving money from one account to another.
  • 21 January 2010: Leo fails to attend court on the assault charge, claiming his life is in danger. Mr Azariah’s mother and brother claim all Agape members have moved interstate.
  • 26 June 2011: Leo and his inner circle are arrested in a Fijian resort following a commando-style raid.
  • 27 July 2011: Then-Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Pallaras, QC, announces Leo’s extradition will not be sought, and he will not be prosecuted, over the May 2010 raids.
  • 7 August 2011: The Sunday Mail reports Leo and his inner circle are being held, by Fijian authorities, in a Pacific coastal resort. They are eventually released and remain overseas.
  • 1 September 2011: Leo, instructing his lawyers by Skype, makes one last-ditch effort to fight off the compensation claims filed by the ATO and Ms Melchiorre.
  • 8 May 2012: Leo and Mr Penney settle their lawsuit out of court.
  • 4 June 2012: Ms Melchiorre is awarded $420,000, and the ATO $3 million.
  • 11 April 2013: John Mouhalos is found in Victoria where, he claims, he was hiding out from the cult. He is prosecuted for firearms charges and released on a bond.
  • 24 June 2013: The District Court orders Agape’s financial empire be dismantled and all proceeds from the sales of its properties go to the ATO and Ms Melchiorre.
  • 18 June 2014: The ATO and Ms Melchiorre ask a receiver be appointed as almost 12 months have passed without the sale of a single asset.
  • 30 June 2014: Judge David Lovell gives the cult one last chance to settle its own debts by selling the properties at auction.
  • 8 August 2014: The cult’s properties are passed in at auction without a single bid.
  • 4 September 2014: Judge Lovell appoints the receivers.