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Cult leader maybe abusing lawyer visits in prison: lawmaker

By Lim Jae-seong

Published : March 22, 2023 - 17:04

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Portrait of Jeong Myeong-seok from the advertisement of Netflix's documentary series Portrait of Jeong Myeong-seok from the advertisement of Netflix's documentary series "In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal." (Netflix)

Suspicions of cult leader Jeong Myeong-seok abusing lawyer visits have risen, with records showing that he had visits from his legal representative on average of 1.7 times a day during his detention since October, a lawmaker revealed Wednesday.

According to Rep. Park Bum-gye of the main opposition Democratic Party, Jeong had met lawyers 265 times during his current detention as of March 3. He was detained on Oct. 4 on suspicion of sexually assaulting his follower in the South Korean religious group Christian Gospel Mission or Jesus Morning Star (JMS), which claims Jeong as a “Messiah.”

After completing a 10-year prison sentence in February 2018 for the rape of his followers, the 78-year-old was again indicted on charges of raping or sexually assaulting a 29-year-old Chinese follower on 17 occasions. The sexual abuse against the 29-year old is believed to have begun in the month he was released from prison, and continued until September 2021. Jeong is also charged with five counts of sexual assault against a 31-year-old Australian follower.

Lawyer visits differ from other visits in that prisoners can use a separate room without a glass wall separating them from their visitors. There are no limitations on the duration of lawyer's visits, or the number of times they can occur.

However, the number of lawyer's visits Jeong has had is much higher than in the cases of Samsung Electronics President Lee Jae-yong (1.24 times a day) in 2018, former President Park Geun-hye’s aide Choi Seo-won (0.82), also known as Choi Soon-sil, in 2018 and former President Lee Myung-bak (0.6) in 2022.

Considering the visits are not allowed on weekends, Jung met lawyers an average of 2.5 times every weekday.

Jeong is also suspected of intentionally hindering legal procedures by summoning his followers as witnesses, who would then not attend.

Five witnesses requested by the defendant’s lawyers did not present at the fifth trial in Daejeon District Court on Tuesday, derailing the scheduled witness examination.

The lawyers, who did not notify their absence even after the trial began, required the court to offer more time to examine witnesses as well as on-site inspections by the judges.

The prosecution argued that the defendant was trying to delay the lawsuit.

While his detention term is to end on April 27, the court said the term might be extended considering Jeong’s history of fleeing and the existence of his followers on Tuesday.

Criminal stories behind Jeong and JMS have been earning global recognition after Netflix’s investigative documentary "In the Name of God: A Holy Betrayal" featured the religious group.