‘This guy is a predator’: the international investigation into Australian cult leader Serge Benhayon
Serge Benhayon is Australia’s most powerful cult leader. He claims to be the reincarnation of Leonardo da Vinci, offers unconventional healing to his followers, and believes aliens live amongst us.
Now he’s been taken down a notch by one very brave woman named Esther Rockett. Found by a Supreme Court jury to be a charlatan who preys on cancer patients, his bizarre religion, Universal Medicine, is destroying families around the world.
Benhayon created Universal Medicine in 1999 after receiving what he calls “an awakening” – a light-bulb moment that occurred while sitting on the toilet.
In just a few short years, Serge Benhayon has gone from bankrupt tennis coach to living god, with a sprawling property on the NSW North Coast, paid for by some of his 2000 devoted followers, many of them professionals, doctors, lawyers and academics.
“He pretty much portrays himself as a messiah,” Esther explains to Sunday Night’s Matt Doran. “He doesn’t say it in those words, but he pretty much put it to his followers a few years ago that he is the second coming.”
For more than a decade, Esther Rockett has waged a one-woman battle to expose Universal Medicine. Yet she’s paid a high price for her crusade. She’s been sued for defamation, followed, abused and harassed.
“First they tried to have me deregistered,” Ester recalls. “I used to work as an acupuncturist [and they were] saying that I was unfit to practice because I was a hate blogger and a troll, therefore I must be some sort of psychopath, so I’m not fit to practice.”
Esther eventually lost her home and was forced into bankruptcy. However, Serge Benhayon has only grown richer and more powerful. That’s because to the true believers – most of them women – Benhayon is The One.
“He knows how to push the buttons and say the right things,” Esther reveals. “’Oh, you’re neglected. Oh, you could use some more nurturing. Oh, you’re beautiful.’ He tells them to find their inner beauty and all that sort of stuff.”
He calls himself an Ascended Master – one of The Hierarchy – and teaches that all of us are reincarnated multiple times. His congregation believes every word.
In one video, Benhayon can be heard saying, “We’ve had at least 2,300 lives each, and I’ve done everything it takes for me to be a part of the Hierachy.”
His disciples pay big money to hear his ageless wisdom, and to learn the quasi-medical treatments he’s invented, such as “chakra-puncture” and “esoteric breast massage”.
“The esoteric breast massage website had a lot of healing claims that it could assist serious gynaecological disorders,” Esther explains. “There’s just no basis to make a claim like that. It’s completely ridiculous.”
More disturbing still is Benhayon’s bizarre treatment for victims of sexual assault, detailed in one of his training manuals.
“The photographs show Serge with his hands unmistakably on her pubic area,” says Esther. “The text with the photograph says that it’s great for cases of rape recovery. If he was a registered health professional and he touched somebody’s pubic area and called it a healing for rape recovery, he would be deregistered.”
Back in 2005, Esther was feeling stressed and run down, so she booked a healing session with Serge Benhayon at his then home in Goonellabah, just outside Lismore in northern NSW.
“The first thing he says to me is, ‘I think we should do an ovarian reading and your ovaries will sort of tell me things,’” Esther remembers. “Because he was pushy I said, ‘Oh, all right,’ and so he did put his hands on my lower abdomen, only a matter of centimetres above the pubic area.”
“The first thing he said was, ‘When you were five years old, a man in your life let you down.’
He kept going with those sort of statements up into my teenage years, where he said, ‘A man in your life tortured you.’”
“I walked out thinking, ‘This guy’s a predator.’”
And so began Esther’s mission to expose Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine. It didn’t take long to realise that her “healing” experience wasn’t unique. Other women had also suffered at the hands of Benhayon.
Universal Medicine has over 2,000 followers in Australia, and incredibly its bizarre doctrine has even established a foothold overseas. Serge Benhayon preaches a wild mishmash of religion, occult and science fiction. True believers are taught that they are being constantly watched by alien-like creatures that shape their lives.
One devotee is heard in a video: “It can be shared that spirits have a mid-grey coloured body, long thin fingers. They are all nine feet tall and have no feet.”
Remarkably, Serge Benhayon professes an intimate knowledge of alien physiology. “We’re one of the only beings that carry extra limbs. In other planets, they don’t have arms and legs, they don’t need to eat,” he claims in one video.
These malevolent alien beings are poised to strike at any time, but earthlings are at even greater risk when they drink alcohol.
“Serge will say that if you drink alcohol, supernatural entities can invade you,” Esther explains. “If you drink alcohol and then hold a baby, the baby can be raped by the entity that’s in you. It’s just sick stuff. I mean, what kind of a mind comes up with something like that?”
Benhayon also preaches that disabled children are the reincarnations of evil authoritarian figures from the past, like the murderous Roman emperor Nero.
Universal Medicine wields extraordinary power over its flock. It demands that followers go to bed by 9pm and get up at 3am. Oddly for a former tennis coach, Serge Benhayon even insists that women shouldn’t play sport.
In one recording, Benhayon states: “You’ve become involved with sport, which women should never be, because the right ovary becomes more powerful than the left. They’re ready to have a child but the vaginal walls as thick as, and they’re not a woman energetically, even though they have breasts, vagina, uterus and so forth.”
Serge Behayon also controls what his followers eat, forbidding dairy, coffee, gluten, even vegetables like carrots and potatoes. It mightn’t sound that bad, but Esther Rockett says it’s making people ill.
“If you followed that diet, one meal a day, that is very restricted, you are going to get seriously sick,” says Esther. “The impact on children is just unfathomable. You can’t restrict children’s diets like that. It will cause developmental problems, just irreversible, so that’s dangerous.”
Last year, a 10-month-old baby placed on the Universal Medicine diet was admitted to Lismore Base Hospital, dangerously ill.
Despite Serge Benhayon’s weird and harmful ideas, his disciples blindly trust his every word.
Those few who challenge his teachings are shunned and discredited.
Matt Sutherland is a sceptic. He was in happy long term relationship, but then his partner Sarah began dabbling with Universal Medicine.
“Her family were getting more and more involved with the group,” Matt explains. “They started doing all the courses, and I went to the first level one healing workshop, but even then, I did have a few doubts.”
“He would say things like, ‘If a man orgasms inside a woman, that woman is taking on his bad energy.’ It’s very toxic to the relationship.”
Matt endured several more workshops in the hope of saving his relationship. The last straw was a hands-on healing session.
“I’d been partnered up with this guy in the group, and I was lying face down on the massage table,” recalls Matt. “I could feel him like touching my bottom, and he said, ‘I just pulled an energetic snake out of your arse.’ You know, you’re dealing with that kind of stuff all the time.”
Matt simply could not compete with the draw of Universal Medicine. Eventually the relationship broke down, and Sarah left, taking their two children with her. She is now an enthusiastic proponent of Serge Benhayon’s agenda, and is now married to one of Serge Benhayon’s top lieutenants.
“I think he’s a master of separating people from their family and their friends,” Matt says.
“I think he creates doubt. He says, ‘To change, you’ve got to leave behind these people,’ and he splits up relationships. Then once he does that, he then proceeds to get their money out of them.”
Of the thousands of people who have given money to Serge Benhayon, few have been as fragile or as vulnerable as wealthy widow Judith McIntyre. Judith was already desperately ill when she met Benhayon at a Byron Bay festival eight years ago.
“She went up to him and talked to him and she said straight out, ‘I have cancer,’” Judith’s daughter Sarah explains. ‘He then really focused his attention on her and said, ‘Oh, you need deep nurturing.’”
Sarah, a neuroscientist, was immediately concerned. Her fears were justified – Judith eventually gave Universal Medicine $1.4 million.
When Sarah opened her mother’s computer, she discovered emails from Serge Benhayon coaching the dying woman on how to restrict her children’s share of her fortune.
The email read: “Your children are trying to destabilise you, trying to evoke your sympathy. An attack on the funds will help the Hierarchies’ work on earth.”
Sarah was extremely upset by this. “I felt really hurt, because it was really clear that Serge was trying to drive a wedge between mum and her children.”
Conveniently, one of Benhayon’s strictest teachings is that bequests by parents to their children will harm both them and their kids in their next life.
“I think my mother was scared for what might happen to her in the afterlife if she didn’t give him the money,” Sarah reveals.
Esther Rockett’s campaign to expose Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine had started to gain traction. Benhayon hit back by suing her for defamation.
But when the jury returned late last year, it delivered the organisation a crushing blow. The jury found that Universal Medicine was a socially harmful cult; that Benhayon was a charlatan who made fraudulent healing claims; that he’d indecently touched clients; and that he had an indecent interest in girls as young as 10 who stayed in his house.
Benhayon’s reach extends far beyond Australia’s shores. Universal Medicine now also operates in England. Its headquarters, known as the Lighthouse, is set on a stunning, 35-acre estate in Somerset.
Englishman Robin Clifford and his daughter Kasha are all too familiar with Universal Medicine. Robin’s wife Anita became a convert to Serge Benhayon’s teachings several years ago. At first, it seemed harmless.
Robin recalls how it all began. “She was walking around the house burping like a bullfrog. I said to her, ‘What in god’s name are you doing?’ and she was getting rid of spirits.”
“You couldn’t go into the kitchen and give her a hug. No. It had to be a certain way. I had to ask permission.”
“I was so stupid, so naïve. I actually used to drive her to these meetings like a lamb to the slaughter.”
Both Robin and Kasha struggle to come to terms with what happened to the woman who was such an important part of their lives.
“She just completely went up in the clouds,” Kasha remembers. “You can’t really describe how she changed, because she’s not there as a person. It’s like her whole brain’s been switched off and she’s got it replaced in the esoteric workshops. She’s not who she was ten years ago.”
Universal Medicine is booming in Britain. Serge Benhayon’s cult already boasts at least 200 members in the UK.
Back in Australia, Esther Rockett – the woman who has dedicated so much of her life to exposing a destructive cult – has vowed to keep up the fight. She wants to expose Serge Benhayon for the fraud and conman he is. “This group is so dangerous that these people had to be exposed.”
Reporter: Matt Doran
Producer: Stephen Rice