Sex criminal cultist escapes French jail in helicopter
The cult leader Juliano Verbard escaped from Prison on Monday morning in a hijacked helicopter.
SAINT DENIS – A cult leader jailed for sex attacks on children escaped in a helicopter from a prison on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion on Monday, the regional administration said.
Juliano Verbard, who was serving a 15-year term for rapes and sex assaults on children, and two of his jailed followers were hauled on board a chopper hijacked by three accomplices, said senior official Jean-François Moniotte.
"All our search procedures have been put into action to find them," said Moniotte, who is chief of staff to Reunion's prefect, the central government's representative and police chief on the island.
The helicopter landed on waste ground a few hundred metres (yards) away and the gang escaped in a van that had been waiting for them, he said. The two crew members were unhurt and are assisting police.
"One of them put a gun to my temple while another threatened to set fire to a bottle of petrol he had in his hand with a cigarette lighter," the pilot told local broadcaster Antenne Reunion.
Verbard was the guru of the self-styled "Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary", a cult with no connection to mainstream Catholic institutions, on the island of Reunion, a French territory in the Indian Ocean.
He was jailed in February 2008 for attacks on children aged nine and 13, whose mother was the sect's treasurer. He is also under investigation in two other cases, another alleged sex attack and the kidnap of a 12-year-old.
At the time of his trial, psychiatrist Gerard Toulfayan described him as "a extremely powerful manipulator with great intelligence."
Verbard launched his cult in 2002 after convincing hundreds of followers that the Virgin Mary appeared to him every month. Adepts paid 20 euros (26 dollars) each for the honour of taking part in an appearance ceremony.
According to Verbard, Mary called him her "Lily of Love".
Authorities attempted to dismantle the sect after it was implicated in the kidnap of 12-year-old Alexandre, a boy that Verbard claimed was destined to become his successor at the head of the group.
AFP / Expatica