Cult's empire grows in Melbourne

The Advertiser, Australia/August 16, 2010

A controversial church, described by some as a doomsday cult, has links to five Melbourne properties as part of a multi-million-dollar empire.

The properties in Clayton and Sunshine are estimated to be worth more than $2 million.

The Agape Ministries Church hit the headlines in May after police raided 12 properties in and around Adelaide seizing weapons, ammunition and explosives.

A Herald Sun investigation has found the church empire spans two states, eight properties and a fleet of 13 vehicles, while its riches fill 10 bank accounts.

Court documents obtained by the Herald Sun have, for the first time, revealed the scope of church leader Pastor Rocco Leo's fortune - riches obtained, his detractors claim, through deception.

The papers were filed as part of a successful South Australian District Court action to freeze the assets of Mr Leo and two senior Agape members, Joe and Mari Antoinette Veneziano.

They show that:

Five properties in the Melbourne suburbs of Sunshine and Clayton are owned by either Mr Leo, the Venezianos or companies in which they hold an interest.

Mr Leo owns three South Australian properties, including the church's Oakden headquarters.

THE church runs a fleet of 13 vehicles including a Mercedes sedan and Mercedes coupe.

FUNDS are held in one Westpac and nine Commonwealth Bank accounts.

One of the Victorian properties is believed to have been sold last month for about $1.6 million, despite the freezing order.

Mr Leo and the Venezianos are being sued by Silvia Melchiorre and Martin Penney, who claim they were duped into handing over $1.2 million and $420,000 respectively.

They claim Mr Leo told them Earth's population would be impregnated with microchips.

Mr Leo allegedly said anyone who refused the chip would be branded a terrorist and be gassed or beheaded in government camps. Mr Penney alleges Mr Leo warned microchipped people would die from slow-release poison hidden within the devices.

Ms Melchiorre claims Mr Leo promised to keep her safe on "The Island", a South Pacific location.

Lawyers for Mr Leo and the Venezianos have repeatedly denied the claims, offering to "refund" a $290,000 "donation" made by Ms Melchiorre. The lawsuits against Mr Leo and the Venezianos return to court next month.

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