David Yonggi Cho, the 78-year-old leader of the world’s largest Pentecostal mega church, was recently convicted of embezzling $12 million and sentenced to serve three years in prison. News of this famed pastor’s indictment spread through the Christian community like wild-fire. Followers of the South Korean pastor searched for an explanation on how their disgraced leader became entangled in such a crime.
Cho was sentenced to three years in prison after he was convicted of directing officials to purchase stocks at four times the market price from his son. He was also convicted of tax evasion fraud of $3.2 million. As a result his church, which was founded in 1958, lost $12 million. Cho has been ordered to pay back $4.6 million.
Hee-Jun, Cho’s eldest son, was also sentenced to three years for his participation in his dad’s embezzlement scheme. Hee-Jun is the former CEO of Kookmin Ilbo, a media company. He was taken into custody immediately following the court order because he was viewed as a flight risk, according to Dr. Bob Rodgers Sr. who is a close friend of Cho.
Elders of Cho’s church have accused him of embezzling $20 million in 2011 and again in November 2013. Nearly 30 elders complained to the press about Cho’s corruption. They accused him and his family members of stealing millions of dollars of the church’s money over the past two decades.
Cho’s elders say he borrowed millions of dollars from the church which he never repaid. Additionally they reported in 2008 Cho received an $18 million severance pay when he stepped down as head pastor. This payment was made without the consent of the decision-making bodies of the church.
Ha Song-Ok, a former church elder, said he tried to persuade Cho multiple times over the past 14 years to abandon his unethical practices, but he refused and the corruption continued. Song-Ok felt he had no choice other than to expose this to the outside world.
Dr. Rodgers is the pastor of Evangel World Prayer Center in Louisville, Kentucky. He has hopes of restoring trust towards Cho and wanted to share important information relative to Cho’s case that has yet to be revealed. He knows congregants want to know how their leader got involved in the crime of corruption and breach of trust which caused the embezzlement of $12 million in church funds.
According Rodgers, out of Cho’s three sons Hee-Jun has been the prodigal. The two youngest sons work in church-related ministries and are both very productive. Hee-Jun has been married four times and been involved in multiple sexual scandals with well-known personalities. Reportedly, Hee-Jun was sent to prison before for his involved in investment scams and embezzlement. Rodgers said his life of scandal has been an embarrassment to his family as well as the church.
In 2002 Hee-Jun sold the church 250,000 shares of stock in a cleaning company named 1-Service. He purposely defrauded the church by selling the shares at four times above the market price, reported Rodgers.
Cho said he trusted his son and his elders and did not check nor read the thousands of pages of paperwork which had been prepared for him to sign. Allegedly, he signed the documents because of trust but never received any monies from the deal.
Prosecutors who are representing a group of elders from the church have a different understanding of Cho’s involvement. They have identified Cho as a definite accomplice to the embezzlement scheme. Prosecutors claimed Cho used money from the transaction to help his son recover losses from stock investments. They also allege Cho ordered that the deal be done as quiet as possible because of the potential uproar it would cause with his elders and congregants.
Rodgers said the presiding judges’ final ruling was that the court considered even though Cho had the final word in the church he was never the lead in any of the crimes. The court ruled the Hee-Jun was the instigating constituent of the crime as it relates to the purchase of 1-Service stock. The court also felt the pastor’s history as a religious leader and long-term contribution to the welfare of many as mitigating circumstances on his behalf.
From its early beginnings in 1958 Cho’s church, Yoido Full Gospel, has grown to more than 450,000 followers. His disciples have established their own “disciple churches” across the country, creating a congregation of roughly one million people who view Cho as their spiritual leader.
Cho told his church that day he heard the court’s ruling was the hardest day of his 50 years of ministry. His faith in God did not waver as he also told them “If God called him back today he would still be able to enter the Kingdom of God; God justifies sinner through faith in Christ Jesus.”
The world-renowned South Korean pastor, David Yonggi Cho, was recently convicted of embezzling $12 million and sentenced to serve three years in prison. The 78-year-old spiritual leader of the world’s largest Pentecostal mega-church was ordered to pay back $4.6 million.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)