Faith healer Serge Benhayon has lost the defamation lawsuit he brought against former client Esther Rockett after a jury found most of what she had written about Benhayon was true, including that he is a cult leader who preys on cancer patients and indecently touched her during a treatment session.
A jury of four had to answer more than 200 questions to resolve the case between Benhayon, a 54-year-old former tennis coach who runs spiritual healing business Universal Medicine, and Esther Rockett, a blogger and former acupuncturist.
After a five-week hearing and a week of deliberations, the jury handed down the intensely complicated verdict in the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney on Monday.
The jury found Rockett's accusations that Benhayon had indecently touched her as he carried out an ovarian reading at a healing session in 2005, and that he had indecently touched a number of clients, were substantially true.
It also found as true imputations that Benhayon is the leader of a socially harmful cult; is sexually manipulative of his cult followers; persuaded followers to shun loved ones who wouldn't join the cult; is a charlatan who makes fake healing claims, preys on and swindles cancer patients; and is dishonest, among others.
A small number of the imputations were covered neither by the truth nor honest opinion defences, but the jury found Rockett had behaved reasonably in publishing all that she did, holding up the defence of qualified privilege.
In a statement after the verdict, Rockett said the jury had "validated my criticisms of this cult and its leader".
"It is vital that Australians are able to exercise their lawful right to raise concerns about people who are preying on the some of the most vulnerable members of the community. It is also a timely reminder that we need proper regulation of health care providers who take money for worthless services, carry out practices of inappropriate touching and give harmful advice," she said.
Over the course of the case, the jury heard evidence on a wide range of issues, including what constitutes a cult, relationships that broke up after one person got involved with Universal Medicine, an "ovarian reading" and other energy-based spiritual healing theories and practices, reincarnation, and alleged sexual misconduct.
On the second day of the trial Benhayon testified that there were spirits in the courtoom, and that he is the reincarnation of Renaissance painter and thinker Leonardo Da Vinci.
Some of the jury smiled as Justice Julia Longeran thanked them for their time and effort before releasing them from jury duty.
She noted that the four of them had listened "very carefully and assiduously the whole way though".
The matter will return to court on December 7.