Police in Brazil have arrested an American sect leader described as the “devil incarnate” for alleged sex attacks on girls at his US religious camp.
Victor Barnard, 53, who was on the US Marshals Service most-wanted list, was arrested in an apartment near picturesque white-sanded Praia da Pipa beach, about 1,300 miles from Rio de Janeiro.
A 33-year-old Brazilian woman was taken into custody with him and police seized computers, mobile phones, pen drives and other objects.
The self-professed minister is being held in the city of Natal to await extradition to the US, where he faces 59 counts of criminal sexual conduct.
According to a criminal complaint, two women said they were among about ten girls and young women chosen to live apart from their families in a “Maidens Group” at a camp Barnard set up near Finlayson, Minnesota, about 90 miles north of Minneapolis. One woman claims Barnard sexually abused her from the age of 13 and continued until she was 22.
The other said her ordeal occurred between the ages of 12 and 20.
Barnard allegedly kept the girls isolated and US authorities have said he used religious coercion and intimidation to maintain his control over them, calling it “cult-like” behaviour. He allegedly told one victim she would remain a virgin because he was a “man of God”.
Investigators believe Barnard abused other girls but have been unable to get them to come forward. Most of the criminal counts against him carry maximum sentences of 30 years in prison.
Cindi Currie, who said she had visited Barnard’s River Road Fellowship camp in Minnesota years ago and tried to persuade a friend to leave the group, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper she could not wait to see him behind bars.
“He has ruined more lives. That man is the devil incarnate,” she said. “I’m just ready to cry. I’m so glad they found him. Not only will Victor Barnard go to jail, but every adult who knew what was going on up there can start to pay, and maybe these girls can start to heal.”
The US Marshals Service said Barnard initially left Minnesota in 2010, before the women came forward, and his whereabouts were unknown for some time. It was believed he and his followers had moved to Washington state.
Brazilian authorities said Barnard entered the South American country legally in 2012 and had been living at the apartment where he was arrested for at least six months.