Queensland's Helidon cult leader living large in Vanuatu

A QUEENSLAND cult leader is being accused of fraud on a massive scale by former followers, as she is tracked down in Vanuatu living the high life.

Debra Burslem founded the Magnificat Meal Movement in the late 1980s at Helidon, near Toowoomba in south-east Queensland. It was created as a Catholic off-shoot.

It has also been widely attacked as a cult.

With tales of seeing Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and spruiking herself as a prophet, she first amassed followers, then she allegedly amassed their money.

On an apparent crusade to build a basilica or church at a cost of more than $40 million, her disciples delivered a flood of cash, including 10% of their income, plus gifts and donations.

She is even accused of funneling funds through a doomed gold bullion scheme and profiting from the commission.

On her website, she writes that she rides exclusively in cars made by luxury Mercedez Benz because they have "mercy" in the name.

A Current Affair reporter Chris Allen tracked down Ms Burslem on the Pacific Island, a tax-free haven where she goes by the alias "Princess".

The bizarre nickname apparently a nod to how all are royalty in the kingdom of God.

The reporter says she was found shopping for homewares.

Unwilling to speak to the reporter, it was Ms Burslem's former disciples who told Nine the extent of her alleged fraud.

Former disciple and follower of Debra Burslem's Magnificat Meal Movement Claire Birchley accuses Ms Burslem of fraud on A Current Affair
Former disciple and follower of Debra Burslem's Magnificat Meal Movement Claire Birchley accuses Ms Burslem of fraud on A Current Affair

Former member Clare Birchley was among Ms Burslem's key holy warriors.

"[Ms Burslem] has burned through life savings belonging to other people," she said.

"She has chewed up decades of their lives."

Ms Birchley even said her leader demanded to always fly first class on the dime of followers because it helped her "pray better".

Her faith wavered "towards the end" when Ms Burslem would always have a message from God or the Virgin Mary that happened to fit with her scheme.

"There always seemed to be a convenient message from Our Lady or from Jesus at the end, depending on what she was trying to engineer."

In her Pacific Island retreat, "Princess" now charges $200 a night for believers wanting to visit.

On her website she addresses critics, telling disciples:

"They simply do not count in my life as I am too busy getting on with the wonderful joy filled work of mercy and the business of providing abundantly for peace solutions and mercy."

Topics:  editors picks helidon vanuatu

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