Cult's cashed-up man of mystery paid $900,000 for resort

Sunday Mail, Australia/July 2, 2011

He's Agape's international money man - the Italian who handed over the cash for the cult's Fiji hideaway.

When Lorenzo Lettieri met real estate agents in Fiji earlier this year, he told them he was buying the luxury resort as a holiday home for a wrestling champion and his family.

With villas, a restaurant, reception area and a private beach, the former eco-resort was a steal at $900,000.

But, in reality, it became a hideout for Adelaide fugitive cult leader Rocco Leo, girlfriend Mari Antoinette Veneziano and her brother Joseph. The three were arrested two weeks ago for breaching their visas and now face deportation.

A senior member of the cult's Vanuatu branch, 34-year-old Lettieri manages the church's finances and often travels to Fiji.

The real estate agent who sold the resort told the Sunday Mail Mr Lettieri paid about $900,000 for the 6.6ha Crown land property.

It can be revealed that Mr Lettieri was registered on April 14 as owner of the former Tiri Villas resort in Pacific Harbour, 35km from the Fijian capital, Suva.

The agent was told the resort was for a World Wrestling Entertainment personality who wanted it for a family retreat.

He said he discovered it was being used as a church only when news of Leo's arrest broke last week.

Title documents obtained by the Sunday Mail show the resort was bought by Mr Lettieri "as trustee for Whitehorse Trust".

The estate agent said the resort had been on the market for "some time" because vendors were asking too high a price. Last year, the sellers agreed to drop their asking price from $4.3 million to market value.

The former owners ran the resort, which was popular as a retreat for government departments and private organisations, until June, 2009.

This week Fiji immigration director Major Nemani Vuniwaqa would not say how long Leo and the Venezianos would be held. "It depends on the investigation that's still ongoing," he said.

He would not comment further but was quoted in a local newspaper yesterday as saying there was no reason to deport Leo unless Australia requested it.

"There has been no response from Australia so far," the Fiji Sun quoted Major Vuniwaqa as saying.

"This means that they do not want him."

It is understood Fijian police are investigating Leo's local connections.

Under Fijian immigration law, a detained person can be held for up to 28 days after having been charged with an offence.

It can also be revealed that the Morning Star, a yacht moored near the former resort, is registered in Wilmington, in the US state of Delaware.

Delaware is famous for its favourable tax laws and the relative ease of setting up corporations.

Two people were found on the yacht when Leo was arrested.

The Sunday Mail reported last week that at least six other people, including two young boys, were on the premises when officers raided it.

Leo is wanted in South Australia on 126 counts of fraud and an assault charge. A civil case brought against him by two of his former followers claiming he defrauded them of more than $1.5 million has been deferred until later this month.

It is believed Leo, his girlfriend and her brother had been living in Fiji for the past year, after they fled SA just before a raid on the cult's properties.

They are being held at an undisclosed location.

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