The Reverend Sun Myung Moon, who has died aged 92, was accused of brainwashing followers and fleecing them of cash
In his crown and flowing robe the Reverend Sun Myung Moon was a slightly comic figure as he tossed confetti over thousands of bride and groom clones at mass weddings.
The Unification Church founder was dismissed as the Loonie Moonie when he hit the headlines in the West in the 1970s.
The self-proclaimed messiah claimed Jesus had chosen him to complete his mission on Earth by arranging for complete strangers from different countries to marry and create “pure” families.
But the world was to learn that this message of peace was all a front for a sinister cult, accused of exploiting vulnerable youngsters, brainwashing followers and fleecing them of cash.
And while megalomaniac Moon was befriending North Korean leaders and US presidents, he was also building a billion-dollar business empire that included newspapers, TV stations and an arms factory.
After the “Emperor of the World” died yesterday in South Korea aged 92, the future of the Moonies looks uncertain.
The cult, which has claimed to have seven million members across 180 countries, is now said to have around 100,000 followers.
Moon’s youngest son and spiritual heir, Rev Hyung Jin Moon, faces a battle for control of the family fortune from his siblings and his mum, Hak Ja Han.
Sun Myung Moon in his young age
A peasant’s son, Sun Myung Moon was born in in 1920 in what is now North Korea.
When he was 16 he claims to have met Jesus on a hillside and was chosen as his successor.
Later he would also claim to have spoken with God, Buddha and Moses.
After Moon studied engineering in Tokyo, he was jailed by the communists in North Korea for his preaching.
He escaped during the Korean War, returned home and married his first wife.
When she was pregnant, Moon left her to form a religion.
His first church was called Broad Sea.
Early members later claimed Moon believed humans must be purified through sex, and having sex with him would cleanse their bodies and souls.
Moon denied the claims.
In 1954 in Seoul he founded the Unification Church – a mix of Christianity, Confucianism, Shamanism and anti-Communism – and claimed he would create perfect families and unite all religions through arranged marriages.
Sun Myung Moon and his wife
Aged 40, Moon then wed 17-year-old follower Hak Ja Han. They were called the True Parents of Mankind.
Many of the couples who married at mass weddings were hand-picked by Moon from photos.
It led to some strange pairs such as a 71-year-old African Catholic archbishop who wed a 43-year-old Korean acupuncturist.
In 1988 Moon entered the Guinness Book of Records when he married 6,516 identically dressed couples at Seoul’s Olympic Stadium.
Moonie newly-weds were forbidden to sleep together for 40 days to prove their marriage was on a higher plane.
They then had to consummate their marriage in a three-day ritual with the sexual positions stipulated by their leader.
Moon’s teachings spread to the West and proved popular with well-off youngsters.
Church membership boomed on the back of world tours.
Moonie “love-bombing” was a recruitment technique designed to make lonely people feel part of a loving community, to reject their families and to hand over their possessions.
It sparked outrage among parents. Some mounted law suits accusing Moon of brainwashing followers.
There were then reports of converts being kidnapped and de-programmed by “cult-busters”.
Moon fought off charges of brainwashing, and in 1978 successfully appealed against a Home Office decision to refuse his application to extend a stay in Britain.
The same year Labour MP Paul Rose paid substantial libel damages over newspaper articles in which he alleged the Moonies brainwashed people, promoted sexual promiscuity, exploited converts and deceived the public.
But in 1981 Moon was on the back foot when the High Court ordered the church to pay costs of £750,000 after it lost a libel action against the Daily Mail which alleged that it broke up families.
Moon became one of the world’s richest and most powerful religious leaders.
“God is living in me and I am the incarnation of Himself,” he once said.
“The whole world is in my hand and I will conquer and subjugate the world.”
His empire included the Washington Times.
While adoring followers were sent out as unpaid fundraisers, Moon lived in a lavish New York home, was ferried around in chauffeur-driven limousines and holidayed on his luxury boat.
An estimate in 2008 put his personal wealth at £625million.
Moon curried favour with Right-wing leaders.
In 1974 he organised “pray-ins” in Washington to halt the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.
The “messiah” was also admired by Ronald Reagan, George Bush, George W Bush and was close to ex-Chilean dictator General Pinochet.
In 1991 despite his anti-Communist teachings, Moon negotiated business deals with the then North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung.
Moon once tried to persuade Elvis Presley to make a film with him about Christ.
In 1984 Moon’s reputation was dented hugely when he was jailed for 18 months in the US for tax evasion.
The church never really recovered from the scandal and membership fell.
By the 1990s there were reports of poor South Koreans being shipped in to boost numbers at Moonie weddings.
The “perfect family” was floundering too, with allegations about Moon’s relations with other women and scandals involving the lavish lifestyles of his kids.
In 1998 his eldest son, Hyo Jin, was revealed as a violent cocaine addict – he died of a heart attack aged 45 – and in 1999 another son, Younjin Phillip Moon, killed himself aged 21.
Moon himself was forbidden entry to Britain by Home Secretary Michael Howard in 1995 although the High Court later ruled the decision was unlawful.
Moon moved the church to a remote region in Brazil. As his flock dwindled, his actions became more bizarre.
In 2004 he told an audience in Washington that emperors, kings and presidents – including Hitler and Stalin – had “declared to all heaven and earth that Reverend Sun Myung Moon is none other than humanity’s saviour, messiah, returning Lord and true parent”.
In 2009 Moon married 45,000 people in simultaneous ceremonies around he world in his first mass wedding in years.
While the couples and his 11 surviving children are mourning his death, the rest of the world will shed few tears for the Moonie megalomaniac.