South Australian authorities will not pursue doomsday cult leader Rocco Leo over 126 fraud allegations.
Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Pallaras said today a review of the evidence against the Agape Ministries leader had determined there were no reasonable prospects of a conviction.
“Consequently we can give no assurance that we would prosecute Mr Leo on these matters should he be the subject of a successful extradition application,” Mr Pallaras told reporters.
“On the material we have been provided with, our considered opinion and it has been a considered opinion, is there are no reasonable prospects of a conviction.”
Leo is currently being held in Fiji on immigration related matters after fleeing Australia late last year, just before police raided several of the cult’s properties in Adelaide seizing guns, slow-burning fuses, detonators, extendable batons and 35,000 rounds of ammunition.
They later moved to issue a warrant for his arrest alleging 126 counts of fraud relating to one victim.
Mr Pallaras said the decision not to prosecute Leo was in no way a criticism of police who were dealing with a complex case involving about 30 witnesses including some people who were not overly cooperative.
“They are dealing with people in a religious sect who may not have as their highest priority assisting police,” he said.
“They were working under difficult circumstances.”
But Mr Pallaras said prosecutors would consider any fresh evidence that became available.
Elsewhere the Adelaide Now says:
The announcement means Leo is not facing any charges in Australia, besides an assault matter, and would be a free man if he were deported or came back to South Australia of his own free will.
Assistant Commissioner Grant Stevens said the “complex” investigation, which led to more than 100 charges of fraud being laid against Leo, had been hindered by a reluctance of former members of the Agape Ministries to speak out against their former leader.
According to the paper, Director of Public Prosecutions Stephen Pallaras has defended the handling of the Rocco Leo saga, saying there is “no chance” of convicting him of fraud charges on the current evidence against him.
Adelaide Now also notes that Leo wants to retrieve assets that were frozen after he fled Australia.
Former parishioners Martin Penney and Silvia Melchiorre are suing the Agape Ministries leader for more than $1.5 million in total. […]
[L]awyers for Mr Penney and Ms Melchiorre said no further claims would be lodged by them.
Mr Penney and Ms Melchiorre claim they were duped into giving Agape $1.2 million and $420,000 respectively.
Master Mark Rice ordered “further and better particulars” be filed by both plaintiffs prior to the next hearing in September.