A Seoul appellate court on Thursday reduced the suspended prison term of the founder of one of the world's largest Christian churches for embezzling church funds, partly overturning a lower court ruling.
In a lower court ruling earlier this year, Rev. Cho Yong-gi, the founder and pastor emeritus of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, was sentenced to three years in prison with a five-year stay of execution.
In its ruling on Thursday, the Seoul High Court sentenced the pastor to two years and six months behind bars, with a four-year stay of execution, for causing some 13 billion won (US$12 million) worth of losses to the church. Cho had instructed church officials to buy stocks privately owned by his eldest son, Cho Hee-jun, at prices four times higher than market value, in 2002.
The court, however, acquitted the 78-year-old disgraced pastor of charges that he had dodged 3.5 billion won in taxes in the process.
In the same ruling, the court handed down a suspended prison sentence to the junior Cho, the former CEO of the church-affiliated local daily Kookmin Ilbo, for colluding with his father in the embezzlement scheme.
The younger Cho, who had been behind bars since receiving a three-year prison sentence in a lower court ruling, was immediately released.
An investigation into the Cho family was launched last year after a group of members belonging to the church filed a suit for breach of trust and tax evasion.
The church, which claims it has around 800,000 members, has often made headlines in the recent past over a series of internal feuds and various corruption allegations. (Yonhap)