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Cult leaders planned to move to Pacific Island

ABC RADIO AUSTRALIA Updated May 21, 2010 09:48:32

Australian police are hunting three leaders of an international religious group after raids in Adelaide uncovered a stash of guns, detonators and ammunition. South Australian fraud investigators are also examining payments from members who gave money to Agape Ministries International. Police say there's no evidence the group is a Doomsday cult but they say the group was amassing weapons and planning to move to a Pacific island.

Presenter: Jason Om
Speakers: Detective Superintendent Jim Jeffery, South Australian Police's Commercial and Electronic Crime Branch; George Kruszewski, local business owner

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    JASON OM: Police have been taking away evidence from the headquarters of Agape Ministries International in Adelaide's northern suburbs all day.

    Twelve properties linked to the group have been raided, including one at Mount Magnificent south of Adelaide.

    JIM JEFFERY: Located within a shipping container on that property was prohibited weapons; slow burning fuses, detonators and detonator cords. There was also about 20,000 rounds of ammunition, some of which is high powered and that ammunition was hidden within the steel frames of some bed heads.

    JASON OM: Detective Superintendent Jim Jeffery from the South Australian Police's Commercial and Electronic Crime Branch says it's unknown why the group was stockpiling weapons.

    JIM JEFFERY: We know that there's suggestions and by the looks of the shipping containers that's there, that they were having plans to relocate overseas, but of course we don't know for stockpiling weapons or why they'd be secreting ammunition inside those containers.

    JASON OM: Police say the group was also amassing money, collected from more than 50 of its members.

    JIM JEFFERY: The Ministry's built up a substantial amount of funds and those funds have been obviously provided by its membership or by its followers by selling up their properties or by pledging funds to that church.

    Obviously the aspect of the inquiry now is to ascertain whether those funds have been used by the Ministry as per the expectations of the people who have given them the money.

    (Music plays and people sing)

    JASON OM: PM has obtained this recording of one of the group's services from June 2004.

    George Kruszewski runs a student hostel opposite the Agape headquarters and has watched people gathering for regular Sunday services over the past nine years.

    He says he used to talk to the group's leader Rocco Leo and says he's previously attended one of his services.

    GEORGE KRUSZEWSKI: He was putting himself up as being a person who's a great healer and a person who's got authority and all that sort of thing. It didn't attract me; it was all sort of getting people in there and making them feel like as if this guy's got all the answers, you know.

    JASON OM: There's been strong speculation about the nature of the group. At a media conference this afternoon, detective superintendent Jeffery was asked if the group was a cult preparing for the end of the world.

    JIM JEFFERY: That would be more speculative. As I said we've got no concrete evidence of that; there's no direct proof or direct links to say that they are going along the lines of what you suggest.

    JASON OM: Police are now looking for the group's key leadership group, which they say could be interstate or overseas. Agape Ministries International is listed on the Australian Business Register as a charitable institution.

    PM has tried to call the Agape Ministries centres listed in South Australia, New South Wales and Western Australia but was unable to contact anyone.

    Four men from South Australia have been charged with firearms offences and will appear in court at a later date.

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