Stephen Pallaras, South Australia’s chief prosecutor, is calling for new laws to thwart the rise of cults across the nation.
Mr Pallaras says a new approach by law-makers needs to address the “mental damage and mental harm” caused by cults.
“Conventional laws have difficulty in coping with the injuries that are caused. What I’m interested in is finding a way to deal with the damage that the cults do,” he said.
His calls are backed by South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, who invited Mr Pallaras to Canberra yesterday to meet the chief of the French Government’s cult-busting agency, Miviludes.
The DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions — RNB] faced criticism earlier this year over its handling of the case involving those involved with the doomsday Adelaide-based cult, Agape Ministries.
Mr Pallaras would not comment on that case, but said Australia could learn from the French approach to cults.
Last July Independent Senator Nick Xenophon said South Australian authorities have made no attempt to have Rocco Leo, the cult leader who heads Agape Ministries, extradited from Fiji.
At time Xenophon said it’s almost “Keystone Cops stuff” that police have yet to seek Leo’s extradition.
AAP noted that Leo
fled Australia last year just before SA police raided several of his Agape Ministries’ properties in Adelaide, seizing guns, detonators and 35,000 rounds of ammunition.
Police have a warrant out for his arrest alleging 126 counts of fraud while he also faces civil action from two former followers who say they were tricked into giving him more than $1.5 million.
Leo and two of his associates, among whom his girlfriend, have been detained in Fiji since early August after overstaying their visas.
Mr Pallaras says under Australian laws, prosecution is difficult.
“They’re (cults) not any harder to prosecute than anyone else if they commit conventional offences,” he said.
“The trouble is the evil they represent … is much more difficult to address with conventional laws, so we’ve got to look at something a bit unconventional.”
Attorney-General John Rau yesterday agreed: “This is a very difficult area for prosecutors”.
But he warned: “Any government contemplating specific anti-cult legislation would need to tread carefully.
“I am interested in discussing this issue with the DPP and hearing his ideas about a better approach to tackling their damaging behaviour,” he said.
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