David Yonggi Cho, founder of world's largest Pentecostal congregation, was found guilty by South Korean court for committing breach of trust and corruption of 13 billion won (US $12 million), according to Yonhap News Agency.
Yoido Full Gospel Church senior pastor received a suspended sentence of three-year prison term with a five year probation and ordered to pay a penalty of 5 billion won (US $4.7 million) by Seoul Central Distrcit Court on Feb. 20, 2014.
The court also sentenced Cho's elder son Hee-jun, secretary general of Yeongsan Christian Cultural Center and former chairman of Next Media, to a three-year prison term without suspension. He was formally arrested before the court ruling, the Yonhap News reported.
In 2002, while serving as chairman of a church-affiliated newspaper Kookmin Ilbo, Hee-jun sold the church 250,000 shares of stock in I-Service at 86,984 won (US$80.06) per share, which was much more expensive than the market price of 24,032 (US$22.12) per share, the hankyoreh reported.
Prosecutors identified David Cho as an accomplice to the crime of breach of trust, claiming that Cho used the money to help his son recover losses made in stock investements.
According to hankyoreh, Cho had directed the transaction, which the church has "absolutely no need for" and resulted in a loss, to be dealt with as quietly as possible despite his full knowledge of the potential "uproar" from the elders and congregation if they find out.
The church's loss of 131 billion won resulted in 29 church elder's filing the lawsuit in 2011, accusing him of embezzling US $20 million. In addition, prosecutors acquired evidence of tax evasion during the investigation, where Cho was suspected of evading 3.5 billion won (US $3.2 million).
While Cho has denied the allegation, he has also been criticized for privatizing church assets.
Although the judge believes that Cho should be severely punished for committing breach of trust, especially for a person of his status in society, he gave a light sentence on Cho's tax evasion in consideration of Cho's long-term contributions to the society, the Yonghap News reported.
The court sentenced Hee-jun to three years in prison for being the main culprit, who tried to evade responsibility - placing his personal financial loss on the church and the blame on others.
Cho, 78, 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.