Authorities told reporters Wednesday that followers in the central Marche and Emilia Romagna regions of Italy were manipulated to follow a rigidly controlled diet known as "Ma.Pi." and that the weight of one follower plunged to 35 kilos (77 pounds).
Five persons have been formally put under investigation for alleged maltreatment, tax evasion and criminal organization with the aim of reducing people to slavery.
Police said the probe began in 2013 after a young woman told police the group's head, a macrobiotic business entrepreneur, promised the diet would provide miracle cures.
Authorities said the sect manipulated followers to obtain donations and work for it practically for free.
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