This article originally appeared on VICE AU.
Serge Benhayon claims to be many things. The 54-year-old founder of the “Universal Medicine” (UM) organisation has variably described himself as a teacher, a spiritual healer, and the reincarnation of Leonardo Da Vinci. On UM’s website he is labelled as “An extraordinary ordinary man.” But in the Supreme Court last month, a jury concluded that Benhayon—who was pursuing a defamation claim against a former client—is in fact little more than the leader of a "socially harmful cult", Fairfax reported.
Throughout the course of that trial, the many indiscretions of Benhayon and his UM cult were brought to light. Those included fraudulent medical claims, “sleazy ovarian reading[s]”, and "indecent interest in young girls as young as 10 whom he [requested] to stay at his house unaccompanied". It was also revealed that the Lismore-based pseudo healer "swindles cancer patients" and "exploits cancer patients by targeting them to leave him bequests": in one case influencing a woman named Judith McIntyre—a follower who died of breast cancer in 2014—into giving him $1.4 million.
A series of emails obtained by the ABC detail the way in which Benhayon deceived Judith in her final months, accepting large amounts of money from her and telling her to keep her donations to UM a secret lest dark spirits cause her "serious harm". He reportedly told her that this was "an unfortunate situation as we all deserve to be named for our contributions” while insisting “no ifs or buts on this one as it is too serious to tamper with".
Benhayon further coached Judith on her diet, her will, and gave her legal advice on how best to restrict her children’s share of her fortune after she died. He told her that her children were "trying to destabilise you, trying to evoke your sympathy", and convinced her to leave her money to UM. In 2015 Judith’s daughter, Sarah Mcintyre, tried and failed to challenge her mother’s will in court, using these emails as evidence. They were ruled inadmissible.
During this year’s court case it was heard that Benhayon warned followers their “kidney energy” could be damaged in the next life if their children spent their inheritance the wrong way. A tax return further revealed that Benhayon’s family trust reported more than $2 million in business income from UM in 2016, with a profit of $891,000.
Cult expert David Millikan, however—who has met and spent time with Benhayon in the past—told the ABC that the cult leader is driven more by the need for worship and praise than a desire for money.
"It is an almost desperation for the world to realise who he is,” said Millikan. “He believes he holds within his grasp the salvation of the world.”
The parties for both Benhayon and Esther Rockett—whom he is attempting to sue for defamation—return to court on December 7.