A former traffic policeman who claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus has been arrested by Russian security services following a raid on his commune in the Siberian wilderness.
Prominent mystic Sergei Torop founded the Church of the Last Testament shortly before the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.
He amassed thousands of followers after preaching that the end of the world was imminent and only he and his believers would survive.
Russia’s Investigative Committee – the equivalent of the US FBI – have accused him and two other church leaders of using psychological pressure to extract money from followers, causing serious harm to their health.
Mr Torop, Vadim Redkin and Vladimir Vedernikov are suspected of ‘establishing a religious association whose activities involve violence against individuals and of inflicting grievous bodily harm to two or more people,’ a spokeswoman for Russia’s Investigations Committee said.
‘They used the money of [their followers] and also used psychological violence against them,’ state media quoted her saying.
The operation to detain the three men involved the police as well as members of the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the KGB.
One local resident claimed four helicopters and dozens of masked men had arrived in the area before searches of nearby homes and buildings began, the BBC reports.
The church leaders could face up to 12 years in jail if found guilty.
Followers of the cult founded a settlement, known as the City of the Sun, in the Kuraga region of Siberia in 1995.
Several hundred members live in other settlements in the region.
In 2000, the Russian ministry of justice said the sect had amassed 10,000 followers around the world.
They have to adhere to strict rules, such as no smoking, drinking or exchanging money, and should live a basic subsistence.
Believers in the teachings of Mr Torop are no allowed to consume meat, coffee, tea, sugar, yeast bread and wheat products, according to BBC Russia.
The group combines elements of the Russian Orthodox Church with themes of reincarnation, as well as preparations for the apocalypse, according to a report in The New Yorker magazine.
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