Witness refutes claim alleged cult leader abused members, gave drugs

The Examiner/November 9, 2023

By Benjamin Seeder

A former member of the Universal Knowledge new age organisation has said he never saw alleged cult leader Natasha Lakaev striking or abusing her members, or demanding that they smoke marijuana during the courses they paid thousands of dollars to access.

Testifying in Ms Lakaev's defamation trial against former Universal Knowledge acolyte Carli McConkey on Thursday, Brisbane chiropractor Dr Patrick Maher also denied that he had thrown his own ex-wife against a door, fracturing her ribs.

He said his wife Misha Del Rae's rib fracture occurred after the couple were "mucking around" and wrestling at home, when she accidentally hit a sharp door handle.

He said she only made the claim that he had deliberately pushed her into the door after their 17 year-old marriage ended bitterly, when he discovered that Ms Del Rae had already been married in the US prior to their 1993 nuptials.

Dr Maher said his wife, who was a fellow member of Universal Knowledge, suffered a miscarriage during 1999, around the time she was completing the organisation's 'Personal Mastery' course.

He said he did not recall Ms Del Rae mentioning an incident on that course, during her pregnancy, when participants were allegedly directed to pin her under a black floor mat and suffocate her.

"Do you recall her saying she had been suffocated under the black mats and that was reason she miscarried?" Ms McConkey, who is defending herself in court, asked.

"No I don't recall that," Dr Maher said.

He said he had never seen anyone held under the black mats when he completed 'Personal Mastery'.

Natasha Lakaev, who now resides in Tasmania, has filed a libel lawsuit against Ms McConkey in the Hobart Supreme Court.

Ms McConkey, who in 2017 published her book 'The Cult Effect' about her experiences as a Universal Knowledge member, claims that Ms Lakaev lead a doomsday cult that abused its members, charged tens of thousands for courses and prophesied the end of the world in 2011.

Ms Lakaev is seeking damages and an injunction against further publications.

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Under questioning by counsel for Ms Lakaev, Daniel Zeeman, Dr Maher said he had never felt he was being indoctrinated by Universal Knowledge, and had benefited from the courses.

He said he had never expected to receive a financial dividend after he paid $20,000 to become a shareholder of Universal Knowledge.

"We became shareholders to allow the courses to happen, because we were happy with what they were providing," Dr Maher said.

He said he had never witnessed Ms Lakaev hitting children with a wooden spoon or metal spatula, as claimed by Ms McConkey, or participants being urged to rub their genitals on each other after a long trip in a bus with blacked-out windows.

The trial continues on Friday.

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