Bid to lift Rocco Leo assets freeze

ABC News, Australia/December 13, 2012

Lawyers for fugitive cult leader Rocco Leo have applied to vary orders freezing his assets so he can pay his legal bills.

The former Agape Ministries leader, who is believed to be in Fiji with some of his associates, was sued by former parishioners and the Australian Taxation Office.

Leo's lawyers settled a $800,000 civil claim with former parishioner Martin Penney and later he was ordered to pay $400,000 to disabled parishioner Silvana Melchiorre, who claimed she was brainwashed into donating based on false information about a doomsday scenario.

Last August, Leo consented to orders in the tax claim, making him liable to meet more than $2 million in unpaid tax.

Leo's lawyers have lodged an application to vary two orders on Leo's Australian assets so he has access to his money for legal bills.

Judge David Lovell says he wants to hear evidence about Leo's financial situation because the court cannot be satisfied Leo does not have access to large amounts of money in Fiji.

"Your client may need to come here and give evidence about this," he said.

"Why would I assume they have no money out of the jurisdiction? I have no doubt their assets in Australia are frozen. Why would I assume they can't pay their legal fees from money they are earning overseas?"

The case will return to court later.

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