Death threats blamed for no-show

The Advertiser, Australia/January 22, 2011

By Sean Fewster

It was supposed to be judgment day for Rocco Leo, but the cult leader remains a fugitive.

The Advertiser has learnt Leo chose not to attend court yesterday because of death threats - and against the advice of lawyers who have now resigned from the case.

Meanwhile, the estranged families of devout Agape believers say their loved ones have vanished interstate.

Lesley Baligod said she feared for her son Raphael Azariah who, she believed, was preparing to move overseas.

"My son, his wife and my grandchildren have moved to Victoria," Mrs Baligod said.

"The whole rest of the group that was here in Adelaide are leaving this Saturday, and we understand they are going overseas.

"We believe Rocco Leo has finally found himself an island, or manipulated someone somewhere into allowing him what he wants."

Last July, Mr Azariah denied Agape was a doomsday cult and said he had "never heard anything" about members fleeing to an island.

Calls to his home went unanswered yesterday - a recorded message says the phone number "is not connected".

Leo, 54, has yet to plead to allegations he assaulted a parishioner's estranged husband at Adelaide Airport, then lied to police about it, last April.

In November, the Holden Hill Magistrates Court warned an arrest warrant would be issued if Leo failed to appear. Yesterday, lawyer Casey Isaacs asked permission to withdraw from the case.

"The need for Leo to attend court was communicated to him by us, but he is not here," he said.

"Our position has been compromised, and we are no longer in a position to adequately press the matter."

Magistrate Yoong Chin granted permission and issued a warrant for Leo's arrest.

He further ordered Leo not be eligible for bail upon his arrest.

The Advertiser understands Leo has not spoken to his lawyers since November, and decided against facing court after receiving death threats.

Leo is also contesting three civil claims.

Two lawsuits, worth $1.9 million, were filed by former parishioners.

They say they were duped by his apocalyptic tales of human microchipping, government control and concentration camps.

The Australian Taxation Office is pursuing Leo for more than $4.1 million in unpaid taxes. The office alleges he "juggled" a further $5.6 million between his accounts "in a crude attempt to hide money".

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