Russian cult leader who once claimed to be Jesus reborn arrested

Sergei Torop in 2002.
Sergei Torop in 2002. Photo credit: Reuters

A former traffic cop who once claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, and his right-hand man - a former boyband drummer - have been arrested in Russia on allegations of running an illegal religious organisation.

Sergei Torop founded the Church of the Last Testament in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapsed, and lives with thousands of followers in remote Siberia. Early on he declared himself the reincarnation of Jesus - a prophet, the Messiah and/or the physical incarnation of God, depending on which religion you ask - but later clarified he was just the "living word of God". 

Now 59, Torop - known to followers as Vissarion - was arrested this week in an operation involving helicopters and armed troops wearing masks, BBC News reported

Also taken into custody were two aides - Vladimir Vedernikov and Vadim Redkin. The latter was reportedly a drummer in a Soviet-era boyband, and since 1992 has been Torop's biographer. 

In 2002, the Guardian wrote a profile on Vissarion, calling him 'Jesus of Siberia'. Followers told how "everything" was banned - swearing, drinking, coffee, tea, sugar, meat, money, no vices at all. 

"We're not allowed to do anything except fall in love," one person said.

A similar profile in the Sydney Morning Herald at the time called him 'Horseback Jesus'.

Even that long ago, he was accused of conning followers out of money. 

He and his two advisers have now been charged with "establishing a religious association whose activities involve violence against individuals and of inflicting grievous bodily harm to two or more people", a Russian official said.

The Guardian said it wasn't clear why the Russian authorities made a move against Vissarion now.

Redkin told The Moscow Times earlier this year that applications to join the group, based in the remote Krasnoyarsk region, had tripled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.