Exclusive Brethren an evil, corrupt cult, court told

The Herald Sun, Australia/December 02, 2008

The Exclusive Brethren is an evil, corrupt cult that tried to silence former members who escaped its clutches, a judge heard today.

Three young Indian sisters, who say they are on the run from the controversial religious group, told Justice Tony North they feared for their lives because they were seeking to expose its criminal activities.

Their spokeswoman Lydia Desai told the judge Prime Minister Kevin Rudd backed down on his attack on the Exclusive Brethren despite calling it an "extremist cult" that broke up families when he was Opposition leader.

Ms Desai, who appeared without a lawyer, said the Brethren had committed a number of national and trans-national crimes but had escaped scrutiny by authorities because of the organisation's vast wealth.

She cited crimes of genocide, people smuggling, corruption and bribery that had taken place in Australia and India.

Justice North remarked that they appeared to have a deserving case but said that because of the complex legal issues raised they needed to have proper legal representation.

"We don't have the money for it. They have destroyed us," Ms Desai told Justice North.

Ms Desai, along with her sisters Rebecca Desai and Priscilla Dsiouza, former members of the sect, have taken unprecedented Federal Court action to try and force the Australian Federal Police to investigate the Exclusive Brethren, saying police have a duty to tackle crime when it is exposed.

The Exclusive Brethren is a worldwide organisation, with 43,000 members. Australian Bruce Hales is its world leader and "Elect Vessel".

The conservative Christian sect has been extremely controversial in Australia because of allegations it tried to influence politicians despite its members being exempt from voting.

In August, the Senate blocked a wide-ranging inquiry into their activities.

Greens leader Bob Brown wanted the Senate's community affairs committee to investigate the sect, accusing it of preventing young members from doing tertiary education courses and forcing young women into arranged marriages.

Lydia Desai told the court Mr Hales had openly boasted he could use his organisation's wealth to buy off any attempts to bring it to account for its criminal activities.

She told the judge that when she and her sisters tried to persuade Indian police and courts to investigate the Exclusive Brethren they were unable to get any action because officials had been bribed.

The three sisters are living in Australia on bridging visas and are awaiting a decision on applications for permanent protection visas.

Justice North said there was an important legal issue on whether a court could order the Federal Police to investigate allegations of crime.

He adjourned the case until January 13 next year and made an order that the sisters should have access to free advice from a barrister.

Outside court, Lydia Desai said the Exclusive Brethren had forced its members in India to move to New Zealand and she and her sisters had then fled to Australia.

She said their aim was to expose the cult and its activities.

"The court can direct the Federal Police to investigate this organisation," she said.

"There are heaps of crimes they have committed. They have smuggled 500 people into this country."

Ms Desai said they had a mountain of evidence for the authorities but she alleged the Exclusive Brethren hierarchy boasted they were untouchable.

"Members of the church are so psychologically damaged that they are not able to come out and talk about it," she said.

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