Pastor Who Raped Followers Claiming it Was an 'Order From God' Is Jailed for 15 Years

South Korean pastor Lee Jaerock arrives at the Seoul Central District Court to attend his trial in Seoul on November 22, 2018. JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images

The influential leader of a South Korean megachurch has been jailed for 15 years for raping eight female followers and telling them he was following orders from God.

Lee Jaerock, 75, is the head of the Seoul-based Manmin Central Church, which claims to have 133,000 followers and more than 10,000 branches and associate churches worldwide.

In its ruling, the South Korean court said Lee denied "objective facts" during the investigation and failed to show remorse during the trial, The Washington Post reported.

Lee was expelled from the Christian Council of Korea in 1999 for what it called his "heretical" beliefs. The Korean Ministry Association labelled him a "cult leader" after Lee claimed he was without sin and exempt from dying.

The court said Lee used the faith and devotion of his followers to abuse them. "The victims, who attended the church since childhood, believed that obeying Lee as a godlike figure is the path to heaven," the ruling explained.

"Apparently the victims were psychologically positioned to be powerless to disobey Lee, and Lee took advantage of their status to commit the crime," the court added. All the victims were in their 20s at the time of the assaults, according to The Korea Herald.

"The victims believed him to be a divine being who wields divine power," the court said. "They would have accepted Lee's behavior as a divine act, rather than a sexual one, and gave up questioning him, thinking that it would constitute a sin."

South Korean preacher Jaerock Lee leads a mass prayer service in Jerusalem, Israel, on September 6, 2009. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images

The Herald said the eight rapes took place between the late 1990s and 2015, but Lee has faced accusations of sexual abuse for decades.

In 1999, a South Korean television channel broadcast a documentary critical of the pastor and his claims that he could cure illnesses. In response, around 300 of his followers stormed the station.

Lee also obtained a court order blocking another story about his sex life, which was set to be screened by the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation.

Despite the allegations surrounding his private life, Lee traveled all over the world, taking up invitations to preach in other churches.

The Manmin Central Church repeatedly claimed he performed miracles to cure illness. On its website, the church spoke of Lee's "overseas crusade" during which "countless have received God's healing of such incurable and terminal diseases as AIDS, cancer, and the like on the spot when Rev. Dr. Lee prayed not by placing his hand on each of the sick but merely for all from the pulpit."

The church denied the allegations made against Lee, The Herald reported. It said the preacher has long been "stressing the importance of sexual ethics" to his congregation and accused some of Lee's former devotees of spreading "false rumors" against him, motivated by jealousy.