ATO asks SA court to dismantle the financial empire of the Agape Ministries Doomsday cult

The Advertiser, Australia/June 18, 2014

By Sean Fewster

A receiver must be appointed to dismantle the Agape doomsday cult’s million-dollar empire because its fugitive leader has failed to do so, a court has heard.

The Australian Taxation Office today asked the District Court to force cultist Rocco Leo — who now lives in Fiji — to immediately sell properties in South Australia and Victoria.

Josh Richards, for the ATO, said Leo was ordered to pay his back-taxes and debt to one of his victims, Silvia Melchiorre, 12 months ago — and had failed to do so.

“The point is, this regime (of clearing debts) was set up so that the properties should have been sold in about five months,” Mr Richards said.

“It’s now been a year, (with) numerous correspondence and delay, delay, delay.

 “We specifically seek orders for the sale of three properties, and we are seeking that a receiver be appointed.”

Agape Ministries first made headlines in May 2010 when a police raid of its properties seized an arsenal of weapons, high-powered ammunition and explosives .

Leo, the cult’s leader, moved overseas to Fiji and has remained there in defiance of a Holden Hill Magistrates Court warrant for his arrest on charges of assault .

In August 2010, The Advertiser revealed the Agape Ministries financial empire spanned two states, eight properties and a fleet of 13 vehicles, with funds in 10 separate accounts .

Leo and his inner circle, Joe and Mari Antoinette Veneziano, were also named in several lawsuits seeking the return of moneys paid into the cult.

Former members alleged they were duped into handing over up to $1.2 million each by claims Earth’s population would be impregnated with tiny microchips containing their personal information .

They claimed Leo said anyone who refused the chip would be branded terrorists and be gassed or beheaded in government-run concentration camps.

Leo allegedly warned that those people who chose to be micro-chipped would also die from slow-release poison hidden within the devices.

Ms Melchiorre, who is profoundly disabled, further claimed Leo promised to keep her safe on “The Island”, a South Pacific location where he would also heal her.

In June 2012, Ms Melchiorre was awarded $420,000 compensation — Leo subsequently challenged that decision.

One month later, the District Court ordered Agape be dismantled in order to pay $3 million in taxes owed — again, Leo challenged the decision.

Since then, the case has been embroiled in out-of-court negotiations and short hearings arguing over the precise amount of money owed by Leo to the ATO and Ms Melchiorre.

Today, Mr Richardson asked the court appoint a receiver to oversee the immediate sale of three Agape properties — one at Kuitpo in SA and two in Victoria.

He asked the application be set down for argument as soon as possible, and was supported in that request by Ms Melchiorre’s counsel.

Lawyers for Leo opposed the appointment of a receiver, saying the properties were already slated for auction on August 2 and 8.

They asked for time to obtain signed affidavit material from their client, saying it would be difficult to do so under a short deadline given his residence overseas.

Judge David Smith adjourned the application for full argument in two weeks.

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