Queensland MMM cult leader tracked down and confronted in Vanuatu

9 News A Current Affair, Australia/February 16, 2015

A Queensland cult leader accused of fraud by former senior members has reportedly fled Australia.

Debra Burslem, founder of the Magnificat Meal Movement (MMM), has been confronted by A Current Affair in Vanuatu after being accused of making money from her followers and using it to fund her lavish lifestyle.

The MMM was founded in 1986 by Ms Burslem out of Helidon in southeast Queensland.

The cult leader claims to see and hear Jesus and the virgin Mary.

Reporter Chris Allen tracked down Ms Burslem and her son at a store in Vanuatu and asked her a number questions that mostly went unanswered.

Former member Clare Birchley, who was Ms Burslem's right hand for 20 years, says during that time she never doubted the cult leader could hear God.

"I believed her absolutely," Ms Birchley told A Current Affair.

"Towards the end I was dubious because there always seemed to be a convenient message from our lady or Jesus towards the end, depending on what she was trying to engineer."

Ms Birchley estimates over the 20 year period, Ms Burslem would have pocketed at least $20 million in other people's money.

She claims there were a number of schemes put in place to make money, including the involvement of multi-level marketing companies to make her followers buy products where she reportedly took the cash.

Cult members were also expected to pay 10 percent of their income to the cult, as well as invest in Global Bullion Services without knowing that the cult leader was pocketing a commission on every dollar.

A bank account in the Bahamas received the commission through the scheme which went on for three years before it collapsed.

Ms Birchley claims all the followers lost the money they invested.

"She has burnt through life savings belonging to other people. She's burnt through their homes. She has chewed up decades of their lives," Ms Birchley said.

The former member claims Ms Burslem built her Vanuatu property to avoid paying tax. She says at one point, the prophet owed $5 million in unpaid taxes and fines.

Former member Eilish Gaffney moved from Ireland to Australia to become another follower of the cult.

"I genuinely believed for 15 years, until the day I left, believed … that all the fund-raising and all the events we carried out, that this money was being saved for the building of a basilica because that was the reason we joined in the beginning," Ms Gaffney said.

She says there are still people in Australia sending money to Ms Burslem, who is currently living in a home in Vanuatu protected by a blue gate, high walls and security cameras.

Former members say servants and true believers are allowed inside, and charged $200 a night to stay when she holds retreats.

"Going over on retreats, paying exorbitant prices to go and spend a weekend with her and the money being pocketed by her. It is such an abuse. It is shocking. These people take out loans to go on these retreats," Ms Gaffney said.

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