A cult leader who claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ has been arrested after armed police swooped on his Siberian compound.
Agents were filmed storming the Church of the Last Testament’s compound in a southern district of the Krasnoyarsk region of Siberia and whisking the group’s leader, Vissarion Christ the Teacher, away in a helicopter.
His secular name is Sergei Torop and his followers believe he is a reincarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, The Moscow Times reports.
According to the Russian newspaper, Investigative Committee and Federal Security Service (FSB) agents detained Vissarion—a former police officer—and two of his deputies.
The Investigative Committee claimed that the cult’s leaders “used its members’ money and psychological violence” against them, causing “serious harm” to some members’ health”, the newspaper reported.
Investigators intend to charge them with creating a religious association that uses violence, the Investigative Committee’s statement to reporters said.
Local resident Alexander Staroverov described the raid to local news website Tayga.Info. “Fifty police vans, 50 buses, an ambulance and medical workers are driving over here,” he was quoted.
The Russian news agency TASS reported that a source said: “Since early morning, investigative activities have been underway in the south of the Krasnoyarsk Region.”
The source added that searches were being carried out in the houses of the leaders and members of the religious group.
TASS said the detained deputies were Vadim Redkin and Vladimir Vedernikov.
Vedernikov was apprehended in Petropavlovka, which is one of the centers housing Vissarion’s supporters, according to TASS.
A citizen of the village, which is in the Kuraginsky district, told the news agency that the special operation involved helicopters and agents with automatic weapons.
The eyewitness said security forces took Torop and Redkin away by helicopter and Vedernikov by car.
Local residents reported that convoys of cars carrying security forces were spotted on the roads.
Church of the Last Testament was reportedly set up in 1991. Four years later his followers founded a settlement in the Kuraginsky district dubbed “Sun City”.
Its members also live in many settlements of the Kuraginsky and Karatuzsky districts in the south of the Krasnoyarsk Region.
The Moscow Times said that the group had reported a surge in members since the outbreak of COVID-19.
Earlier this year, Redkin told the paper that membership of the group had tripled since the start of the pandemic.