The founder of the world’s largest megachurch has been convicted of embezzling over $12 million.
The convicted man is South Korean pastor David Yonggi Cho. Cho founded Yoido Full Gospel Church in 1958. Cho left Buddhism after, he claims, Christ appeared to him during a bout with tuberculosis and told him to spread the Gospel. Yoido Full Gospel Church draws thousands of members to every service.
Cho stepped down as head pastor of the church in 2008. He took an $18-million severance package with him when he left. This move drew the ire of numerous church officials, who accused him in a November press conference of borrowing money from the church and never returning it. He was also accused of acquiring huge church donations without reason.
The church leaders brought their cause to South Korean courts. On Feb. 21, the Seoul Central Court found Cho guilty of embezzlement. The court found Cho pressured church leaders into buying stock owned by his son at four times the stock’s market value. The court ruled Cho embezzled $12 million in the scheme. They also found he evaded an additional $3.2 million in taxes.
Cho will serve three years in prison and be forced to pay $4.6 million in fines.
If Yoido Full Gospel Church officials are to be believed, Cho is only being punished for a fraction of his financial crimes. In 2011, leaders accused Cho of embezzling $20 million from the church and privatizing church assets.
Prior to his financial scandals, Cho was a revered pastor not only in Korea, but around the globe as well. Here is a PBS description of the now-convicted pastor:
“Pastor Cho is one of the most revered evangelists in Korea," PBS correspondent Lucky Severson said in a 2012 interview. "He was a Buddhist until he rejected his religion when he was near death from tuberculosis. He says that’s when Jesus Christ appeared to him in the middle of the night and told him to preach the gospel. So he did. When the country was suffering in poverty and desperation after the Korean War, he preached the gospel of hope through prayer.”