We've been witch-hunted and framed

The Advertiser/July 01, 2010

Police are tracing the origins of an email sent to The Advertiser by "Reverend Pastor Rocco Leo" to see if it leads to the runaway Agape Ministries cult leader.

Mr Leo has apparently broken his silence to hit out at claims he was stockpiling weapons to take over a South Pacific island.

In a lengthy email sent this week, a person claiming to be Reverend Pastor Rocco Leo launched a tirade on former church members, blaming them for spreading the doomsday message.

Major Fraud head Detective Superintendent Jim Jeffery said the email could be authentic because it contained "aspects" indicating it was penned by Mr Leo.

Detectives are tracking the origin of the email.

"Detectives from Major Fraud Investigation Section have conducted a preliminary assessment of the email," Det Supt Jeffery said.

"Investigators will further assess the email to determine its authenticity and conduct inquiries to establish its origin.

"At this point in time it is not appropriate for investigators to discuss their views in regard to the validity of the information contained within the email."

In the lengthy email, Mr Leo denied he was on the run and claimed he was overseas for "scheduled government international aid project talks" when police raided 12 properties linked to the church.

He blamed all illegal activity on three renegade church members - who The Advertiser has chosen not to name - and called for their immediate arrest.

He admitted knowing about the thousands of high-powered rifle rounds - saying he believed it was for shooting foxes at Agape's country retreat.

Mr Leo, known by his followers as Brother Roc, blamed most of the church's problems with the law on an Adelaide businessman.

He claimed it was the businessman who gave him a high-powered rifle as a gift in 2008.

"In gratitude for helping him spiritually through his tough time, he bought me a 22-250 rifle and a Tanfoglio (pistol) under his personal name," Mr Leo claimed in the email.

"I told him that I didn't have a licence and I refused to hold these items without one. As I later learnt, he left the 22-250 at our country rehabilitation farm at Kuitpo without my knowledge," he wrote.

Past members have said that Mr Leo convinced his followers the entire population of the world would soon be implanted with tiny microchips containing all their personal details.

Those who refused would be rounded up by governments and killed.

They told how the congregation became convinced that they had to escape to a village Mr Leo would establish on a South Pacific island.

But in his statement, Mr Leo wrote it was the disgruntled church member who spread these claims.

"(The man) increased his undermining tactics with most congregation members by lying to them and instilling fear in them about some sinister doomsday cult with illegal activities," he said.

"Meanwhile to me he would present an agreeable disposition yet constantly (be) inciting congregation volunteers."

Mr Leo claimed:

HE knew about ammunition being stockpiled at the church's Kuitpo property but "trusted and believed" the man that it was to shoot foxes who were attacking livestock.

HE was subjected to various death threats, which he claimed to have reported to police before leaving the country.

HE had no knowledge that ammunition had been hidden inside bed frames but remembered church members commenting on them being heavy as they packed them into shipping containers.

Mr Leo did not mention the mystery South Pacific island in the statement - although he did talk about his members packing shipping containers for "departure".

"Meanwhile, as we were preparing to consolidate the organisation's assets for departure, (the man) offered assistance with our process of packing of equipment.

"(The man) was responsible for organising the beds and other items at the farm to be placed in the initial container at Oakden."

The cult leader ended his statement by saying the "systematic attack" on his charity organisation "cuts to the very heart of the spirit of Australia" and insisted police move on the three renegade church members who he blamed for any illegal wrongdoings.

"I categorically state that at no time have I personally (or my associates) ever demanded any monies from any individual in return for any healing as falsely reported.

"I hereby declare that I and the Agape Ministries Inc organisation have been witch-hunted and framed by (disgruntled church members) in order to attempt to discredit our reputation ... I pray that justice be served swiftly."

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