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Minh Vacma was a religious sect which was based in France -- in Algrange, Lorraine, close to the border with Belgium and Luxembourg.
Founded and lead by Alain Schmitt, it had around 20 members when it was dissolved in June 2005 following an investigation by French police.
Schmitt and his fiancée, Laurence Liegeois, escaped custody, but...
... were tried in absentia together with 6 other sect members.
In the trial, which was held in Thionville, former sect members testified that they were locked in the dark for several days, forced to eat dog food and drink toilet water.
A victim recounted being extorted out of around €21,000, while another testified that the sect had a hierarchy in which followers were promoted or demoted for giving massages and sexual favours.
Mr Schmitt was sentenced to a 5-year prison term, while Ms Liegeois was sentenced for 3 years. A further 3 received 15-month jail terms, another was jailed for 6 months and the remaining 2 received suspended jail terms.
- Source: Updated: Court orders couple's extradition, John Paul Cordina, DI-VE, Feb. 1, 2010
The couple was arrested in Malta on Jan. 7, 2010, after a European arrest warrant was issued against them.
The Magistrate's Court ordered their extradition. The couple filed an appeal, which they lost on Mar. 22, 2010. They were not immediately extradited pending the outcome of a constitutional case over alleged violation of their human rights.
However on April 30, 2010 a judge in Malta ruled "that Mr Schmitt’s detention was justified, his European arrest warrant was valid, and the lawfulness of the extradition had been properly established."
That same day, Laurence Liegeois dropped her case and left for France because she wanted to be with her eight-year-old son Quinten, who had been in Malta but was then sent to live with his grandparents in France after she was detained. She is serving a 15-month term out of prison, wearing an electronic tag.
On May 21, 2010 Schmitt filed a Constitutional Appeal contesting the judgment given on April 30.
Former members of the religious sect Minh Vacma testified that they were subjected to inhumane treatment while living in the sect’s compound in Algrange.
Witnesses said they were forced to eat dog food and drink toilet water. One victim said he was extorted out of around €21,000, while others claim promotions in Minh Vacma’s hierarchy were made in return for sexual favours.
The Rèpublicain Lorraine newspaper reported the story of an unnamed 25-year old from the Sarreguemines, renamed ‘Patrick’, who described having “gone through hell” before being freed by the police from the clutches of Minh Vacma back in 2005.
Patrick first met Schmitt in 2003 at a get-together for UFO aficionados in Brussels. After enduring a bitter break-up with his girlfriend, ending in financial turmoil and “landing on the street”, Patrick found shelter at Schmitt’s Algrange compound, where he thought he would be staying for a few days until he can start afresh.
But Patrick stayed there for four months, and was only released upon the police’s intervention to arrest Schmitt in June 2005. Testifying in court three years later, Patrick said “he initially was under the impression that he had found a family,” and it was only after a few months that he realised that something was not quite right.
He recounted how Schmitt’s entourage seemed “very, very saddened” upon learning of his decision to leave the house, whereupon he was locked in a bathroom and deprived of bare essentials like toilet paper or food.
Another victim, 24-year old Jennifer Ballot, spent 22 days in Schmitt’s compound where she lost 20kg in three weeks due to “deprivation and interminable general chores which turned into hard labour.”
Ballot describes Schmitt as a “half-blind man with a shaven head” who was often referred to by members of the sect as ‘sensei’, which is Japanese for ‘master’.
“I was locked up in a room with cats and dogs for a whole four hours one day, and after I was freed they said it was only because they had forgotten to unlock the door. I could not recognise myself anymore. I was very tired and everyone was so thin.”
She said the sect was meant to serve as a “way towards inner peace” but it invariably ended up in sex. “They are going to prepare you to have relationships with men,” she quoted Schmitt telling her one day.
- Source: French sect victims ‘ate dog food, drank toilet water’, David Darmanin, Malta Today, Feb. 7, 2010
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