Court voids cult leader’s conviction

REVERSE RULING: Judges decided that although Sung Chi-li claimed he had supernatural powers, his practices were protected by the freedom of religion
Taipei Times (Taiwan),Jan. 29, 2003
http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2003/01/29/192822
By Jimmy Chuang

The Taiwan High Court yesterday overturned the 1997 fraud conviction of cult leader freedom of religion — the defendants could not be guilty of the charges.

Asked whether the court also believed that Sung’s “divine photos” were true, Tsai said, “We cannot prove whether they were true or false but that was not the point that the judges were considering.”

Sung’s “divine photos” — established during his trial to have been produced using basic computer graphics skills — were alleged by the plaintiffs to have been used by him to win people’s trust. They usually depicted colorful rays of light in the sky and a ring of light around his head.

Sung, Cheng and Lo were sued by their followers Chiang Cheng, Chen Chiang Li-hua, Liu Ho-ren (Be), Cheng Ying-hsien, Tsai Te-yang, Huang Mu-lin and Hsu Shu-chuan and were indicted on charges of deception in 1996.

They were alleged to have obtained NT$3 billion in donations from followers by deceiving them with claims that Sung had “supernatural powers” which he was able to use to help people.

At their trial on Oct. 30, 1997, the three defendants were all found guilty. Sung and Cheng were both sentenced to seven years in jail. Lo received a two-year sentence.

Neither the plaintiffs nor the defendants were present at yesterday’s appeal hearing.

But Sung said during a TV interview that he was glad to learn that he had finally been found innocent.

“I have already said more than once that I did not ask or force anybody to make any donations. What I did was nothing more than help people who were in need,” he said.

As of press time yesterday, none of the seven defendants had said whether they would appeal.

Chief Prosecutor Hsueh Wei-ping of the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office, who indicted Sung, Cheng and Lo seven years ago, said he was surprised.

Taoyuan County Police Department Director Hou You-yi, who recently joined the DPP and is one of the officers who investigated the case seven years ago, declined to comment on the verdict yesterday.

Kaohsiung City Mayor Frank Hsieh and his wife Yu Fang-chih have admitted to being sincere followers of his cult for years. Their close relationship with Sung was seriously questioned by political enemies during the mayoral election in 1998.

According to police, Sung insisted during his investigation that he had supernatural powers and could get people to do whatever he commanded.

The police therefore invited him to display his powers in public. But he failed to persuade a standing police officer to sit down despite repeated attempts.

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