So-called Hindu 'witch doctors' have some in the Auckland Indian community living in fear of black magic curses, with claims the issue is wide-spread and has been going on for decades.
Complaints have been rolling into NZME today after claims 'healers' in South Auckland have charged thousands of dollars in return for promised financial fortunes and love-life successes that don't eventuate.
Kriti Yatri, 58, a victim of witch doctors, said the practice was common in Hamilton during the late 90s and today the Indian community was still too scared and embarrassed to come forward.
"How many people like me are out there, please don't hide yourself, please come out, this is a problem for the whole of New Zealand," the Mt Roskill man said.
Mr Yatri said he lost his home, business and marriage when he refused the services of a couple and their priest.
The couple were demanding 10 separate ceremonies at $250 each, plus other ceremonies that came to a total of $50,000.
He alleges they retaliated by performing a black magic ceremony that included the spreading of cremation ashes when he wasn't home.
"I was affected very badly, mentally, physically, financially, it destroyed everything," he said.
He was introduced to the priest by the couple.
After meeting him, the priest told Mr Yatri he was in "very grave danger".
Mr Yatri and his wife were scared for their young children, and eventually agreed to pay the priest to pray for them to get rid of the black magic, which he said was threatening them.
But the priest began demanding more money.
When Mr Yatri refused to pay he was threatened by the couple, who claimed to be in touch with an Indian crime boss and would get him to "do something to our family back in India" if they didn't hand over the cash, Mr Yatri said.
Indian community leader Pratima Nand, who helped expose the witch doctors, said such practitioners were "affecting the true priests" of the Hindu religion, who do not practice or condone witchcraft and black magic.
Ms Nand said while witch doctors had been known to be arriving in New Zealand for around 10 to 15 years, in recent years "the numbers are increasing by the hour".
"It is getting to the stage now where it is affecting the common people. They're going into depression, losing money ... they're stressed and all that sort of thing."
The witch doctors were asking for "large sums of money, and they want it up front", she said.
"They ask about $2,000, $3,000 some of them. I know of people who have spent $12,000 ... and no results."The witch doctors "entice you, they brainwash you, they create hope in you, they tell you '100 per cent guarantee it will happen', and you get sucked in", she said.
While some people would soon cut contact, others who were uneducated or held strong orthodox beliefs held out hope that their problems would be solved, she said.
"[They have] nowhere else to go because scientifically there is no cure for their problems. Scientifically nobody can bring your husband back - if the husband doesn't want to come back that's it, we accept it, but these people they lack education, they lack the understanding."
She said: "Our culture is such that this thing has been in our society for a long, long time."
However, Ms Nand said since the report aired on Sunday, people were starting to open up about their experiences.
"People are happy to bring up their stories about what has happened to their families, which is great because now this has given them the opportunity to come forward.
"They are supporting it wholeheartedly."
Counties Manukau Senior Sergeant Chris Barry said police welcomed contact from anybody who believed they are a victim of an offence.
"We would encourage anyone considering paying money for a service like this to exercise the same caution as they would for any other service," he said.
"This means having an informed understanding of the service they are paying for an applying appropriate judgements in any transaction."
An Immigration New Zealand spokesman said it was in the "process of identifying the individuals concerned".
"Once we have established identities we will be contacting the individuals concerned and taking any appropriate action.
"Earlier, Immigration said warned people "not to be taken in by anyone offering these types of services".
"They cannot help you, all they are interested in is their own financial gain," it said.
Advertisements for Indian spiritualists and 'astrologers' are common in local media in south Auckland.
But none of the astrologers advertising openly were home when NZME News Service visited them.
NZME News Service also visited the Otahuhu shop shown on 3News' report into witch doctors, which screened on Sunday night.
The woman who worked in the clothes and beauty store said an astrologer used to work from an area at the back of the store, but was no longer there.
He had since moved on, she said, but did not know where to.
The woman said, as a Christian, she did not follow the beliefs the astrologer touted, and did not associate with him.
But she had seen a surge in such practitioners in the area in recent years, mostly centered around the Papatoetoe and Otahuhu areas, she said.
In Royal Oak, one Indian shop owner said he had heard of the so-called astrologers working in south Auckland.
He described how people came to them with problems, such as poor eyesight, and the astrologers would claim to be able to restore their vision.
"They take people's money ... it's bullshit," he said.
Workers in an Indian food store in Sandringham said witch doctor-type astrologers were mostly based in Papatoetoe.
There were priests and astrologers attached to the Hindu temples, but they were legitimate priests who did not ask for money, they said.
Practitioners claim cures for all conditions
Advertisements promising "guaranteed results" and "100% satisfaction" are being touted by the so-called Hindu astrologers or witch doctors claiming to solve everything from black magic to love, marriage and domestic problems, to financial and health problems.
One astrologer with an address in Papatoetoe also claimed to help people with their Lotto numbers.
"Are you suffering from any of this [sic] problem? Evil spirit, bad luck & black magic, evil eyesight. Jadoo will be removed in three days doing powerful poojas [prayers] for lifelong protection," the advert in a local newspaper says.
Boasting "guaranteed results", the astrologer claims to be able to solve money, love and marriage problems, depression, problems in business or with enemies, and job and visa issues.
The "world famous spiritualist astrologer from India", also claims to be a gold medallist with 30 years experience.
In another advert, a different astrologer - also based in Papatoetoe - claimed to provide "100% satisfaction" and "good results" through astrology, palm reading and horoscopes. As well as solving marital and family problems, he also claims to be able to cure black magic and remove witchcraft, evil and bad luck.
Indian community leader Pratima Nand said the witch doctors work by enticing people in with promises to cure their problems, usually within a set time frame, but when that time is up, they claim "the black magic is so strong, we have to do very hard prayers, we have to ask our gurus in India to pray as well as us here".
They then ask for more money to fund the prayers and to buy extra ingredients to carry out the ceremonies.
These would often include cow's urine, Ms Nand said.
"Other things like rice and wheat, grains and all that sort of thing [are used], but they are using other dirty things," she said.
"They are using evil things to perform evil acts, basically that's what black magic is."