May 18, 2017

Fugitive Agape cultist Rocco Leo fails to front court as ordered, $9 million lawsuit splits further as former parishioners lose faith

Sean Fewster, Chief Court Reporter
The Advertiser
May 17, 2017

THE Supreme Court is still standing despite fugitive pastor Rocco Leo’s warning the “hand of God” would come down on those opposing his claim on $9 million of doomsday cult money.

On Thursday, Leo failed to personally appear in the Supreme Court, as he was ordered to by Justice Martin Hinton last month.

But while the courthouse did not crumble, the case did — a class action claim filed by a group of former parishioners has now split in two.

One group, whom The Advertiser understands remains loyal to Leo, is representing itself while the other, whose faith has lapsed, is represented by the only lawyer to have beaten the cult.

David Bulloch — who, in 2012, won a $500,000 judgment on behalf of a disabled former member — told the court his clients were ready to untangle the cult’s financial web.

“I have been through this some years ago, on behalf of another client, and it will be tricky but not impossible,” he said.

Gillian Walker, for the Australian Taxation Office, said the fracture would further complicate the already complex case.

“It’s a mess, and it’s not going to be an easy exercise,” she said.

The parties are warring over all that remains of Agape’s financial empire — $9 million in a bank account belonging to one of its satellite companies.

The cult came to public attention in 2010 when a series of police raids that netted ammunition and explosives, causing Leo and his inner circle to flee to Fiji in defiance of an arrest warrant.

It subsequently emerged he had promised his believers salvation, on a Pacific island, from death camps, human microchipping and an impending global armageddon.

As revealed by the Sunday Mail, Leo’s continued “missionary work” in Fiji is paid for by the proceeds of bingo nights held, in the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, by a loyalist.

In March, Justice Hinton ordered Leo to appear in court if he wanted to pursue his claim.

Leo’s representative, Kathryn Conder, then read a message from Leo warning those who “moved against” him would “personally see the hand of God move”.

On Thursday, Justice Hinton noted there had been no further correspondence from Leo.

He said Mrs Conder’s husband, Kevin, and fellow former parishioner Konstandina Coluccio had elected to represent themselves, and ordered they serve their claims on the other parties.

Mr Bulloch said his clients had fully “ventilated” their claim in documents filed with the court.

“Significant work has been undertaken by our clients in terms of the paper trail ... if the facts are plain, that will be a jolly good beginning,” he said.

Ms Walker said her client needed time to consider its position given the change of circumstances.

Justice Hinton adjourned the case until July.

No comments: