Cult leader Rocco Leo will seek settlement with ex-follower

Cult leader Rocco Leo will seek an out-of-court settlement with a former parishioner he allegedly duped, a court has heard.

AdelaideNow reports

Lawyers for another former Agape Ministries parishioner, meanwhile, have dropped the value of their lawsuit by more than $300,000.

Leo, who is in Fiji, and his inner circle are being sued by Sylvia Melchiorre and Martin Penney.

In court documents previously filed with the District Court, they alleged they were duped into handing over $420,000 and $1.2 million respectively.

They claimed Leo said Earth’s population would be impregnated with tiny microchips containing their personal information.

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

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

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

Leo’s lawyer Tom Duggan said he was in settlement negotiations with Ms Melchiorre.

According to The Australian

Mr Penney is continuing his suit but has reduced his claim from $1.2 million to about $866,000.

Mr Penney’s lawyer, Richard Armour, said his client wanted back $517,193 he donated to the organisation, $132,000 he gave for plant and equipment, and $217,000 he gave in trust to Mr Leo for a cancer-stricken parishioner.

“My client wanted to help them (the cancer sufferer’s family) by making gifts to them to help them through their crisis,” he said.

Mr Armour said Leo never passed the money onto the family.

Cult leader Leo was arrested in Fiji last June, along with his closest associates Mari Antoinette Veneziano and her brother Joseph, for visa breaches.

Veneziano and her brother are also defendants in the civil claim.

Followers claim Leo preached a doomsday scenario and promised them a new life on an island in Vanuatu to save them from the end of the world. Police say followers have sold properties and provided the money to help fund the plan.

In addition to the civil suits Leo is also being pursued by the Australian Taxation Office for $4 million in unpaid taxes.

In November last year Agape Ministries was stripped of its legal status as a religion, losing its tax exemption.

Leo fled to Fiji in May 2010, just before police raided his Agape Ministries properties. During the raid police discovered thousands of rounds of ammunition and guns.

In July South Australian authorities said they will not pursue Leo over the 126 fraud allegations with no reasonable prospects of a conviction.

However, Independent SA Senator Nick Xenophon, who has taken a marked interest in cult-related issues, renewed his call for an independent review of the case.

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