Agape Ministries doomsday cult given tax breaks since 2000

The Advertiser, Australia/June 27, 2010

Taxpayers have been subsidising the activities of the Agape doomsday cult for a decade, tax records show.

Agape Ministries International was granted charity organisation tax breaks from July 2000 by the Tax Office.

It was stripped of the status last month after police raided its properties around Adelaide and seized 15 allegedly illegal firearms and other weapons.

The issue of the cult's charity status was raised by an anonymous tip-off to a Senate inquiry into legislation, proposed by SA senator Nick Xenophon, which aims to force religious groups to prove what public benefit they provide before being granted tax breaks.

Senator Xenophon introduced the legislation following allegations against the Church of Scientology including coerced abortions, false imprisonment stalking, harassment and extortion.

He said the Agape cult had been enjoying tax breaks for 10 years which showed why it should have to prove that it provided benefits to the public before the Australian Taxation Office granted it charitable institution status.

"You have to ask whether this cult used their tax-exempt status to buys guns and ammo," he said. It raises the issue of whether we need a public benefit test before religions and charities receive tax cuts."

The Australian Tax Office refused to answer any questions yesterday about the cult's tax status including how much money the status would have been worth to the cult during the 10 years it was considered a "charitable institution" with GST tax breaks.

With additional approval from the Tax Commis- sioner, charitable institutions are eligible for exemption from paying income tax, cash-basis accounting and a rebate of 48 per cent of fringe-benefits tax capped at $30,000 of benefits to anyone employed by the charity.

A spokeswoman would not say whether the ATO had investigated Agape at any time during the 10 years.

Under ATO rules, as a "charitable institution", Agape Ministries International was granted numerous GST concessions, including the first $150,000 of turnover being GST free.

ATO documents show the cult was registered as a charitable institution until May 27, seven days after police raided the group's 12 properties.

Barrister Craig Caldicott - the lawyer for two men linked to the cult and charged with firearms offences as a result of the raids - said the ATO status further undermined false beliefs about Agape.

Following a hearing this month, Mr Caldicott branded allegations about its activities as "doomsday cult hype."

"If you go back, the police have investigated them, various other organisations have investigated them and nothing has come up, so what they have found are some minor firearms charges, which is a bit like saying if a couple of people in the Church of England have firearms charges the entire Church of England is a doomsday cult...," he told The Advertiser yesterday.

Agape Ministries International would reapply for its status as a charitable institution, he said.

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