Alleged cult leader to settle defamation claims out of court

The Chronicle, Australia/October 11, 2014

By Chris Calcino

Broke and faced with having to represent herself in a defamation lawsuit against some of Australia's most powerful media organisations, the leader of alleged Burringbar-based cult Universal Knowledge opted to settle out of court.

Natasha Lakaev took to task Fairfax-owned newspaper The Age and News Ltd publication the Gold Coast Bulletin over articles allegedly stating she had led a cult which used mind control techniques to coerce financial gain from vulnerable members.

In ruling in their favour, Justice Jean Dalton accepted the evidence former cult members Carli McConkey and Michael Greene had given.

She said Ms Lakaev's evidence was "deliberately prevaricating and at times demonstrably untrue" in rejecting her application for adjournment so she could muster the funds to hire legal representation.

Ms Lakaev, who gave her occupation as "clinical psychologist", could only afford to secure barrister Peter Travis to seek an adjournment to the case - one Justice Dalton said would likely have lasted up to 18 months.

Mr Travis said Ms Lakaev hoped to sell her Burringbar property "Omaroo" - a 100ha former headquarters for Universal Knowledge at 105 Hunter St - in order to afford adequate legal representation.

The property recently failed to sell at auction and has been on the market continuously since 2009 for prices ranging between $1.2 million and $3.3 million.

Ms Lakaev said a meditation school had shown interest but nothing was set in stone.

Another waterfront unit in a Burleigh Heads high rise is on the market due to Ms Lakaev owing more than $600,000 to the Commonwealth Bank.

The Age journalist Michael Bachelard and former Gold Coast Bulletin reporter Anne-Louise Brown also were named as defendants in the lawsuit. Each also had judgment entered in their favour against Ms Lakaev.

Former Universal Knowledge member Carli McConkey, an interview subject of the articles, and her husband Michael Greene also faced defamation claims over the articles.

Ms McConkey told the court Ms Lakaev's assertion she had only been involved in one prior lawsuit was a lie.

"Before she started Universal Knowledge, she had a company called the Hospitality Training Group… and I know she had court cases to do with that and judgment handed down in the New South Wales Supreme Court," she said.

She further stated Ms Lakaev had filed lawsuits following a 1998 feature on A Current Affair "claiming she was a cult leader and conned people into handing over" large sums of money.

Ms McConkey said another lawsuit from insurance company ING stemmed from dishonest income protection claims Ms Lakaev made about her former partner, referred to as "Nick", "who had run away and come back and was not well at all and was in a mental institution".

She said Ms Lakaev asked her to forge cheques of up to $45,000 "to prove he was getting paid, when he wasn't".

He has since died.

Ms Lakaev said medical issues would make representing herself difficult but did not give any accounts from doctors.

"I had an accident a few years ago and some of my very specific memories from some events aren't there," she said.

Ms Lakaev, who had two of her closest supporters Christopher Wellington and Keicha Adams watching from the public gallery, held her face in her hands as the court denied her application for an adjournment.

Justice Dalton said she should not be rewarded for trying "to avoid anything that might do otherwise than bolster her case" in her evidence, especially since she had initiated the court case and had twice refused the defendants when they applied for an adjournment.

Wednesday morning's sitting lasted only a few minutes, following the previous night's settlement, with Justice Dalton entering judgment in favour of all of the defendants.

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