Agape Ministries of God
cult's financial empire dismantled
Herald Sun / AdelaideNow
Chief Court Report Sean Fewster
August 13, 2012
THE Agape doomsday cult's financial empire will be carved up by the taxman following a $3 million court judgment.
This morning, the District Court ordered the controversial group and its fugitive founder, Rocco Leo, settle their debts with the Australian Taxation Office.
stripped Agape of its tax-exempt status as a religion and froze its assets
For two years, the ATO has pursued Agape, Leo and his confidante, Joe Veneziano, for amounts left unpaid since 2009.
It stripped Agape of its tax-exempt status as a religion and froze its assets - eight properties, 13 vehicles and 10 bank accounts in SA and Victoria.
Auditors sought $4.1 million, claiming Leo had "juggled" a further $5.6 million between his accounts in a "very crude attempt to hide money".
Previously, the court has heard Leo and his inner circle of followers are in Fiji.
In June, he was ordered to pay a disabled former parishioner $420,000 compensation over claims he duped her with tales of human microchipping and global Armageddon.
Today, Stephen Lynton, for the ATO, said the nature of the case had changed.
He told the court new calculations had found Leo owed $2.4 million, Veneziano owed $1.1 million while Agape Ministries' debt was just $17,952.20.
Sam Doyle, for the defendants, said his clients would not oppose any order they pay those amounts.
He said the ATO should pay his clients' court costs due to the "significant changes" in the case.
"(Leo's) debt increased from $1.6 million to $2.3 million but the amount owed by Agape went down," he said.
"That goes to the very centrepiece of our claim in this matter: that the old assessments (of debt) were not properly done."
Mr Doyle said his clients also wanted access to the remainder of their funds now that the case had concluded.
Master Peter Norman said they would have to file a new application with the court.
He ordered the ATO be repaid and reserved his decision on costs.
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