South Korean megachurch leader's rape term extended

Seoul (AFP) –


A Seoul appeals court on Friday extended the jail term imposed on a South Korea cult leader for raping female followers, sentencing him to 16 years behind bars.

Pastor Lee Jaerock was convicted last year of raping eight women more than 40 times.

The 75-year-old denied the charges and appealed, claiming the victims were all highly educated individuals and it was therefore "impossible for anyone to sexually assault them".

The Seoul High Court upheld his original conviction and added a ninth victim who came forward after his first trial, extending his sentence by a year.

"Lee habitually raped young female followers by exploiting their faith and obedience, as a powerful religious figure," judge Seong Ji-yong said.

Lee set up the Manmin Central Church in Guro, once a poor area of Seoul, with just 12 followers in 1982.

As of last year it had grown to 130,000 members, with a spotlight-filled auditorium, sprawling headquarters, and a website replete with claims of miracle cures.

Religious devotion is widespread in technologically advanced South Korea, with 44 percent of people identifying themselves as believers.

Most belong to mainstream churches, which can accumulate wealth and influence with tens of thousands of followers donating as much as 10 percent of their income.