Pastor for South Korea's Biggest Church Charged with Financial Crimes

The largest Pentecostal Christian congregation in South Korea and the world, Yoido Full Gospel church, has come under fire as its founder and senior pastor Cho Yong-gi along with his two sons await trial on embezzlement and tax evasion charges.

Pastor Cho Yong-gi, often referred to as the “Pope” or near god-like figure in his an iconic, mega-church with more than 20,000 worshipers attending his church in each of seven Sunday services, now faces ugly accusations, including breach of duty and tax evasion involving tremendous amount of money.

The Prosecutors’ Office indicted Cho on June 9, 2013 on charges [ko] that he caused 15.7 billion won (14 million US dollars) worth of losses by directing church officials to buy stocks privately owned by his son, at prices four times higher than market value.

Image of Yoido Full Gospel Church,

Image of Yoido Full Gospel Church, The red building complex all belongs to the church (several minor buildings don't appear in the photo). Image by Flickr user uselesswork (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The pastor, additionally, is accused of evading 3.5 billion won (three million US dollars) in taxes. His eldest son, former chairman of daily newspaper Kookmin Ilbo which was launched by the Yoido Full Gospel church [ko], is already in prison on charges that he embezzled the company's money. Among several minor lawsuits surrounding Cho's family, there is an even incident that a Kookmin Newspaper's labor union leader was fired for criticizing Cho family [ko], but he eventually won the lawsuit. 

South Korea ranks as one of the most Christian countries in East Asia. Over the last decade, however, the number of Protestants has made a sharp downturn [ko] and it has become increasingly unpopular among the younger generation as more disturbing news came about on several pastors’ sexual assault cases and prominent churches turning partisan in favor of the ruling political party.

@jirisan99: 여의도순복음교회 조용기 목사 삼부자 배임혐의로 나란히 법정에 서다.  세계최대 단일교회로 기네스에 올라있다더니 역시 스케일이 남다르군.

@jirisan99: Yeoido Full Gospel church’s Pastor Cho Yong-gi and his two sons will all be standing before the court for breach of duty charges Link to article [ko] The church made into the Guinness Book of World Records for being the biggest single church in the world- no wonder the sheer scope of [their failure] is unprecedented.

@syh24: 순복음교회 조용기 목사와 두 아들이 모두 법정에 서게 됐다고. 죄명은 돈과 관련된 배임과 탈세. 하나님의 법정이 아닌 세속의 법정에 서게된 목자, 세속의 작은 법도 지키지 않으면서 어찌 하나님의 큰 말씀을 설파할 수 있나요? 부끄럽지 않으세요?

@syh24: Senior pastor of the Yoido Full Gospel church and his sons are being summoned to the courtroom, under the charge of breach of duty and tax evasion. This pastor, came to stand up in front of a secular court, not the god’s court. How can you preach God’s word when you can't even follow ordinary secular law? Aren't you just ashamed of yourself?

The Yoido Full Gospel church released a statement [ko], arguing the “church’s decision-making process is different from a regular private company” and “the senior pastor does not have a great knowledge in professional areas such as taxes and stocks”. About 160,000 church members have filed a petition [ko] that they don't want any legal punishments for Cho.

However, net users have questioned such claims and pointed out it may not be a simple mistake or unintentional error:

@pattyy0098: 조용기 목사 탄원서 쓰시고 항의 하시는 성도님들…지금 조용기 목사가 십자가 메고 골고다 언덕을 올라가는거 아닙니다. 부정한 일 저질러서 검찰에 조사 받으러 가는겁니다.  한 두번이 아닌거 잘 아시잖아요.

@pattyy0098: Those church people signing the petition and protesting back, [please wake up.] It is not like Pastor Cho Yong-gi is climbing up the Calvary carrying a cross. He is going to meet a Prosecutor for investigation because he did something wrong. And you already knew that it is not his first time. [read previous GV article]

@iron_heel: 조용기 탄원서에 16만이 서명했단다. 아마 이 사람들은 자신들이 하느님의 일을 한다고 굳게 믿을 것이다.

@iron_heel: 160,000 have signed a petition defending Cho Yong-gi. These people would firmly believe that they are doing “God’s work” by doing so.

@ddanziabba: 장로 28명 조용기 고발,  조용기 고발한 장로 28명 징계 결정,  조용기 150억대 배임혐의 불구속기소, 한기총 조용기 노벨평화상 후보 추천 결의, 교회라서 철저하게 [인과응보]는 배척하나? 대체 이 시퀀스를 어떻게 이해하란거지?

@ddanziabba: [quick timeline] The 28 church elders have sued Cho Yong-gi. Cho decided to punish those 28 elders. Cho was indicted for breach of duty. The Christian Council of Korea (CCK) suggested Cho to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. How can we understand this timeline? Do they think they can totally ignore the “consequences of their actions” because they are the church?


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