Cult head jailed for sex crimes

AFP The Singapore Straits Times/Febrary 10, 2009

Seoul - A South Korean cult leader who told followers to have sex with him to purge their sins was jailed for 10 years on Tuesday.

Jeong Myeong-Seok - whose JMS sect stands for both Jesus Morning Star and his initials - was convicted of raping or sexually assaulting four women between 2001 and 2006.

An appeal court added four years to a lower court's sentence of six years.

'The accused committed serious wrongdoing by taking advantage of his status as a religious leader,' the court said in a statement, adding the victims were 'hurt severely.' The court was crowded with some 70 of Jeong's followers, some sighing and others shedding tears at the sentence, media reports said.

Jeong, now in his early 60s, fled South Korea in 1999, one day after rape allegations against him were broadcast on national television. He was formally charged in absentia with rape in 2001.

The cult leader was arrested in Hong Kong in 2003 for visa violations but later fled an extradition hearing. China extradited him to Seoul in February last year.

The offences for which Jeong was convicted were committed with followers while he was on the run overseas, but South Korean courts said they had jurisdiction because his victims were Koreans.

Former cult members, mostly young girls, have told police they were instructed to undress for health checks and to have sex with Jeong to expunge their sins.

The girls said they were threatened with spiritual death if they spoke of what happened, according to previous media reports.

News reports have said Jeong, who founded his cult in the late 1980s, was still believed to have thousands of followers.

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