Former cult leader loses defamation trial against book author

The Advocate, Australia/March 4, 2024

By Benjamin Seeder

The former head of the Universal Knowledge new age organisation has failed in her libel claim against former acolyte and book author Carli McConkey.

In his decision published on Monday, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Estcourt ruled that all of the imputations against alleged ex cult leader Natasha Lakaev were either true or substantially true.

Ms Lakaev sued Ms McConkey for defamation in the Tasmanian Supreme Court, after the publication of her book, 'The Cult Effect', in 2017.

The much-delayed trial began last year, and the court heard testimony that Ms Lakaev had claimed to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ as well as one of 12 members of the 'Intergalactic Council of the Universe'.

During the trial, claims emerged that Ms Lakaev's Universal Knowledge organisation had prophesised the end of the world in 2012, and had offered courses to followers that taught them how to survive the end of times by switching dimensions.

Followers paid tens of thousands of dollars to access various courses, were subject to abuse and exposed to gay pornography, the trial heard.

The court heard that Ms Lakaev had raised over $400,000 from members who became shareholders in Universal Knowledge, and that Ms Lakaev admitted that none of these investors had seen a return.

A another former member testified that in one five-hour session in the late 1990s, participants were encouraged to abuse and bully a woman; a noose was then hung as encouragement for the woman to kill herself.

During the trial, Ms Lakaev, who now lives in Geeveston, south of Hobart, denied burning down the garage of her own bed and breakfast business to collect $80,000 in insurance money.

Ms Lakaev denied that Universal Knowledge members were indoctrinated, and that she ran a cult.

She also denied encouraging drug use among the members, and denied a claim that a pregnant woman was pinned under gym mats and suffocated as part of one course.

In his decision, published on Monday, Justice Estcourt found all of the imputations published in Ms McConkey's book and associated newspaper articles were either wholly true or substantially true.

"I have no difficulty in finding that the plaintiff wrongfully indoctrinated people," Justice Estcourt wrote.

"I have not the slightest doubt that the plaintiff knowingly and wrongfully indoctrinated people into her bizarre belief system."

He found that the imputation from the book that Ms Lakaev had "battered" Ms McConkey and others was absolutely true.

Justice Estcourt found that both Ms Lakaev and her witnesses were unreliable.

"I regard the plaintiff as a dishonest and unreliable witness and the people she called to give evidence as part of her case as not independent witnesses," he wrote.

Justice Estcourt wrote that he was persuaded to a "very high level of satisfaction" that Ms Lakaev was an "arrant liar".

"In my view her evidence, where it differs from that of the defendant or her witnesses, should not be accepted unless it is supported by truly independent evidence or by ontologically objective fact."

Justice Estcourt also found true that Dr Lakaev was a bully, and unlawfully obtained financial advantages from her cult members.

Universal Knowledge's predecessor organisation was founded in the 1990s and was based in rural NSW.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.

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