A leading evangelical Christian pastor has been arrested in a Rio suburb for the alleged rape of six women, including three minors, police said.

Marcos Pereira, who has been head of Brazil's Assembly of God of the Latter Days church for the past 20 years, was detained late on Tuesday.

"He is accused of raping six women, including three under the age of 18," police inspector Marcio Mendonca Dugubras on Wednesday.

The pastor, who made headlines by practicing collective exorcisms of drug addicts and prisoners whom he later converted in Rio jails in the 1990s, was jailed in a maximum security penitentiary in northern Rio.

Dugubras said that Pereira would tell his victims that they were possessed by the devil and therefore needed to have sex with a "holy" person.

The victims, all of them poor, consented, thinking that by doing so they "were ridding themselves" of their sins, Dugubras told reporters.

Police had been investigating the pastor for a year and said he might have raped 20 other women since 1998.

One of the victims, a member of Pereira's church, was said to have been sexually abused from the age of 14 to 22.

Police said the pastor was also being probed for alleged involvement in drug trafficking, money laundering and homicide.

Source: Agencies