THE claim of the Yoido Full Gospel Church to have the world's
largest congregation has long attracted attention, but now it is in
the spotlight for different reasons. The former leader of the South
Korean Pentecostal church, which can seat 26,000 in its main
auditorium in Seoul, and counts more than one million members
worldwide, has been accused by church elders of misappropriating
Its co-founder and former chief pastor, David Yonggi Cho, is on
trial for allegedly causing the church £9 million of damage in a
stock deal, and evading £2 million in taxes.
A group of 28 elders, the "Prayer Meeting for Correcting the
Church", who were expelled from the church after making accusations
of financial irregularities, say that Mr Cho and his family have
siphoned off hundreds of millions of pounds in church funds.
A severance payment of £11.6 million that Mr Cho received when
he stepped down as chief pastor in 2008 was never voted on by any
body in the church, the group's investigation has found. In
addition, what happened to about £35 million in "missionary
expenses" paid out between 2004 and 2008 is unknown.
It is alleged that Mr Cho kept £57 million out of £95 million
borrowed for building a Centre for Communications and Mass Media
(CCMM) near the Full Gospel Church in Yoido, an island in Seoul's
Han River; and that companies managed by his eldest son, Hee-jun,
received building work for the CCMM worth £26 million.
Cho Hee-jun was charged last year by prosecutors with causing £9
million in damages by selling shares to the church for four times
their market value. The elders allege that he appropriated a total
of £140 million in church assets, including £20 million in
"lifetime subscriptions" to the church newspaper, Kookmin
Ilbo, which was headed by Mr Cho's second son, Min-je.
Mr Cho's third son, Seung-jae, bought three floors of the CCMM
building for £17 million, and then sold them back to the church
three years later for £22 million, the elders say.
They also claim that Mr Cho's wife, Kim Sung-hae, who is
president of the church's Hansei University, has yet to account for
£6 million paid by the church to found another church campus,
Bethesda University, in California.
Mr Cho is also accused of trying to hush up an extramarital
affair with a female Korean singer in France, using a payment of
£870,000 from church coffers.
During a recent press conference in Seoul, a supporter of Mr Cho
mounted the rostrum and tried to grab one of the elders by the
Mr Cho is "unconcerned with money", one of his aides, Lee
Won-gun, was quoted as saying by the Hankyoreh
Mr Cho and his mother-in-law founded the Full Gospel Church in
1958, and its first services were held in a US Army tent. It
featured in the Revd Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch's BBC television
series A History of Christianity.
Mr Cho was rebuked in 2011 for saying that the earthquake and
tsunami that killed nearly 16,000 people in Japan was "God's
warning" to a country that follows "idol worship, atheism and