Although he is a self-confessed man of the cloth, the enigmatic Rev. Sun Myung Moon has often had to suffer the unkind remarks of the unrighteous. The term “Moonie” has often been confused with “money” in discussions about the fortunes of the 61-year-old Korean-born evangelist founder of the Unification Church—a religious cult with a worldwide following of three million. Last week, in a Manhattan federal district court, Moon’s financial dealings got a more public hearing when he appeared on charges of tax evasion totalling more than $150,000.
According to a 12-point federal indictment, Moon deposited $1.6 million in cash in a number of New York bank accounts. Then, between 1973 and 1975, he used the money for his own “personal and business purposes” while failing to report almost all of the $112,000 in interest accruing from the accounts. Not only that, but Moon allegedly received $50,000 in stock in 1973 from his company, Tong II Enterprises—a company that imports ginseng tea and other Korean merchandise—which he also failed to report. Moon and a high-ranking Moonie aide, Takeru Kamiyama, are also charged with conspiracy to file bogus tax returns, committing perjury and obstructing the U.S. investigation. The conspiracy charge alone could lead to a five-year jail term. Each tax count carries a maximum three-year sentence.
The trial is expected to last more than a month and prove as nettlesome as an oriental puzzle, with Moon arguing that he misunderstood U.S. banking laws. Last week, the first of many expected legal battles began when Moon’s defence team urged trial Judge Gerard Goettel to hear the case without a jury. Moon, dressed in a dark suit and bright red tie, heard interpreters explain his plea: that polls had shown he was
so controversial that an impartial panel could not be found to try him. Goettel decided he would hear the case himself only if a suitable jury could not be found.
It is not the first run-in Moon has had with American jurisprudence. He owns two rambling estates in upstate New York, and church receipts in the United States reportedly total $30 million annually. His diverse business holdings— which include large fishing fleets, a New York-based daily newspaper, a manufacturing and industrial empire, as well as titanium mines—have already prompted one New York appellate court to rule that his church was established more for the purpose of saving money than souls. Since 1977, when U.S. immigration officials began investigating whether or not Moon and his followers had entered the country illegally, he has been an elusive target, tending to his business affairs from abroad and travelling extensively in South America.
Moon’s defence team will argue that the indictment is little more than a witch-hunt based on “racial and religious bigotry.” His American spokesman, Moses Durst, describes the tax-fraud charges as an “orchestrated attempt to assassinate” his character. But Moon has been a contentious figure ever since 1974, when he burst on the American scene. His mind-numbing blend of Bible-thumping evangelism and oriental mysticism has since aroused parental fears that his church brainwashes the converts who stand proselytizing on street corners. The court’s decision is unlikely to remove that aura of controversy.
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