Manhunt for leader as cops raid Agape Ministries of God 'doomsday cult' properties

The Courier-Mail, Australia/May 21, 2010

They believe the Apocalypse is looming in 2012, but for the leaders of the Agape Ministries cult, their world yesterday tumbled down.

After 90 heavily-armed police swooped on 12 properties owned by the sect in Adelaide and south of the city, three church elders were last night being sought by police.

Church leader Rocco Leo - known to his congregation as Brother Rock - was among those whose whereabouts were last night unknown.

Leo, 54, has a criminal record for running a brothel in the 1980s. Former members say he is behind a fraud involving millions of dollars donated by sect members.

Those sect members are required to pass on 10 per cent of their earnings.

The Agape Ministries reportedly believes the world will end in 2012, and has attracted several hundred people to its "House of God" at Oakden, in Adelaide's northeast.

Police charged four men after the raids yesterday and on Wednesday, but are still seeking at least three senior members.

"Police have not been able to locate the leaders of Agape Ministries or its key personnel," Superintendent Jim Jeffery said.

"We don't know of their whereabouts (but) there's nothing to cause us to believe they are not in Australia."

Supt Jeffery said police were concerned that while ammunition was found in the raids, high-powered guns believed to be possessed by the cult were missing.

An Upper Sturt man, 46, will face Adelaide Magistrates Court and a Mt Compass man, 49, will appear in Christies Beach Magistrates Court next month. Two other men - one, 38, of Oakden, the other, 48, of Aberfoyle Park - were reported for firearm offences and will be summoned to appear in court later.

Fifteen illegal firearms and extendable batons were found in the raids, while Major Fraud detectives also seized financial records.

A core group of about 60 believed the cult leaders would use their money to buy a Pacific Ocean island to build a Christian colony for the congregation, police said.

A former cult member has told The Advertiser that church members are brainwashed into believing that life on Earth will end after microchips are implanted into everyone by the end of 2012.

Supt Jeffery would not say if money was seized in the raids but he said the ministry had built up a substantial fund from pledges by the congregation.

He said some members had sold their homes and given the proceeds to the church to buy the Pacific Island colony.

He said police believed church leaders had been making arrangements to move offshore.

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