Fugitive cult leader Rocco Leo's detained in luxury resort in Fiji

Sunday Mail, Australia/August 6, 2011

By Heather Kennett

Fugitive doomsday cult leader Rocco Leo is being detained with his girlfriend at his coastal hideout in Fiji.

The Fijian Government confirmed to the Sunday Mail the charismatic former Agape Ministries preacher was seeking a visa to live in Fiji as efforts to bring him back to Australia faltered.

Mr Leo fled Adelaide more than 12 months ago before police were able to question him over his financial affairs and a cache of weapons found on several properties belonging to Agape.

Criminal charges against him relating to 126 counts of fraud were withdrawn by police on Wednesday because of a lack of evidence.

However, District Court civil action relating to allegations he duped $1.62 million from two former followers and owed the Australian Tax Office $1.75 million are pending.

Fijian Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, said an Immigration Department investigation was under way as Mr Leo, his girlfriend, Mari Antoinette Veneziano, and her brother, Joseph, had been arrested for overstaying their visas.

"Mr Leo had requested that he be allowed to apply for a permit to reside," Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said. "Given the complexity of the case, his personal security and whilst awaiting the outcome of the investigation, Mr Leo is currently being detained, without any objections, under house (arrest)."

Independent SA Senator Nick Xenophon, who has been highly critical of the way police and the Department of Public Prosecutions had handled the Leo matter, said the circumstances of the alleged cult leader's detention were disappointing.

"If this is home detention then the rest of us are in a maximum security prison by comparison," Mr Xenophon said.

He renewed his call for an independent review of the case.

"I'm stunned that the police haven't bothered to go to Fiji to further interview him," Mr Xenophon said.

"They need to forensically go back through the evidence and witnesses to garner more information."

SA Police confirmed this week it had not attempted to interview Mr Leo and his associates in Fiji while they were under detention.

An SA Police spokeswoman said it had no plans "at this time" to travel to Fiji, although the investigation into Mr Leo remained open.

It is unclear whether Mr Leo will ever return to Australia.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said Mr Leo's request for a permit was first sought last September and it was not known when a decision would be made.

He would not comment on whether Mr Leo's SA legal issues would factor into his visa application.

Shalveen Chand, a journalist with the Fiji Times, said wealthy foreign investors were welcomed in cash-strapped Fiji.

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