A former traffic police officer who claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus has been arrested in a special operation staged by Russian security agents.
Sergei Torop, who is known to his followers as Vissarion, was arrested along with two other leaders of the group, Vadim Redkin and Vladimir Vedernikov.
Russia’s investigative committee said it would charge him with organising an illegal religious organisation, alleging that the cult extorted money from followers and subjected them to emotional abuse.
A spokeswoman for Russia’s Investigations Committee said that the group is suspected of “establishing a religious association whose activities involve violence against individuals and of inflicting grievous bodily harm to two or more people.
“They used the money of (their followers) and also used psychological violence against them,” she is quoted as saying by state media.
The 59-year-old cult leader, who lost his job as a traffic officer in 1989, claimed he experienced an “awakening” as the Soviet regime began to collapse.
In 1991 he founded a movement now known as the Church of the Last Testament and has written a ten-volume ‘sequel to the Bible’.
In 2002, he told the Guardian UK: “I am not God. And it is a mistake to see Jesus as God. But I am the living word of God the father. Everything that God wants to say, he says through me”.
Several thousand followers live in a series of remote hamlets in the Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia. Converts to the cult have included professionals from across Russia as well as pilgrims from abroad.
In an interview with the BBC three years ago, Torop said: “We have a school of noble maidens here. We’re preparing girls to become future wives, future brides for worthy men.
“She has to understand not to rise above the man, not to be proud of her independence but to be shy, inconspicuous and weak.”
Sergei is reported to have two wives with six children. Veganism is enforced and monetary exchange is banned inside the commune.
Followers wear modest clothing and count years starting from 1961, the year of Vissarion’s birth, while Christmas has been replaced by a feast day on 14 January, his birthday.