Lawyers abandon doomsday cult leader Rocco Leo

The Advertiser, Australia/May 30, 2012

By Sean Fewster

Lawyers defending fugitive cult leader Rocco Leo against a $420,000 lawsuit have withdrawn from the case.

The Advertiser can reveal the cultist subsequently made an 11th-hour, closed-court bid to derail the start of the case, which has already cost former parishioner Silvia Melchiorre $40,000 in court costs.

Transcripts show the District Court was unimpressed, ordering that the trial proceed, regardless of whether Leo found new counsel or appeared in court personally.

But the cult's Adelaide "agent", financial planner Kathryn Conder, insisted the doomsday guru was not playing games with the law. "No, this is not a ploy, not at all," Ms Conder told the court on Tuesday.

"I've had communication with him (Leo), yes, just hours ago (but) I don't know if someone will be here Monday."

Ms Melchiorre, a stroke victim, is suing Leo over donations made while a member of his controversial Agape Ministries.

She claims he falsely promised to take her to a South Pacific island where she would be healed and protected from global armageddon.

Three weeks ago, Leo - who is in Fiji - settled an $800,000 dispute with another for- mer follower.

He is still battling the Australian Taxation Office over a $4.1 million debt and is wanted on assault charges.

Court transcripts show that, on Tuesday, Leo's lawyers were permitted to withdraw from the Melchiorre case because he had "not replied to a series" of emails seeking his instructions.

David Bullock, for Ms Melchiorre, said his client was ready to proceed.

He warned the trial would be stressful because she had "problems communicating" and would require translation.

Master Mark Rice then called Ms Conder - director of Greater Profit Services - to the bar table, saying she was "effectively Leo's agent".

"Sometimes this is used as a ploy - is that what's happened here?" he asked.

Ms Conder said it was not.

"This is a seven-day trial with costs of $40,000 already, and to say this is unsatisfactory is an understatement," Master Rice continued.

"Either Leo comes and presents his case in court on Monday or someone does it for him ... he ought not be given the opportunity to vacate the trial." He ordered the trial begin on Monday at 10am.

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