Prosecutors launched an investigation into the founder of South Korea’s largest church, who has been accused by religious elders of embezzlement involving millions of dollars.
Twenty-nine elders of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul asked prosecutors Tuesday to investigate Reverend Cho Yong-Gi and his eldest son Hee-Jun, for allegedly siphoning off donations worth 23 billion won ($20 million).
Cho denies the allegations, calling them a smear campaign.
The elders claim Cho used the money to help his son, a former chair of a church-affiliated newspaper Kookmin Ilbo, recover losses made in stock investments.
“We have collected enough evidence regarding Cho’s management of church funds and will continue to file additional lawsuits,” the elders said in their complaint to prosecutors.
A Seoul prosecutors’ office spokesman said investigations were under way.
“We first have to summon the complainants and receive evidence they have gathered before summoning Cho,” he told AFP.
Cho, 75, founded Yoido Full Gospel Church in 1958 and it now claims more than 450,000 followers.
His proteges have built their own “disciple churches” across the country, creating a congregation of around 800,000, with Cho as the leader.
Cho dismissed the allegations as “a smear campaign by an opposing faction of an extremely few people” in his church.
“The truth will reveal itself during the prosecutors’ investigation. Those who filed the complaint will have to take responsibility accordingly,” he said in a statement.
South Korea has East Asia’s largest Christian community after the Philippines, with about 8.6 million Protestants and 5.1 million Catholics. About 10 million South Koreans are Buddhists.