GAPYEONG, South Korea (AP) -- The Rev. Sun Myung Moon died Monday at a Unification Church-owned hospital near his home in Gapyeong County, northeast of Seoul, two weeks after being hospitalized with pneumonia, Unification Church spokesman Ahn Ho-yeul told The Associated Press. Moon's wife and children were at his side, Ahn said. He was 92.
His Unification Church claims 3 million followers, though ex-members and critics put the number at no more than 100,000. There is no questioning the vastness of the business empire Moon created through his church: ventures in several countries from hospitals and newspapers to cars and sushi, and even professional sports teams and a ballet troupe.
Moon Flags flew at half-staff Monday at a Unification Church in Seoul. Followers trickled into the building, some wiping away tears. One woman bowed and cried before a copy of the church-owned Segye Times newspaper, which was placed on a table and had a large picture of Moon on its front page. Another woman bowed before a small statue of Moon and his wife.
Moon's body was transferred to the church's gargantuan white palace on Mount Cheonseong overlooking the lakes and wooded forests of Gapyeong County. His funeral will take place Sept. 15 after a 13-day mourning period, with a massive new sports and cultural center built recently on the church's sprawling campus accepting mourners starting Thursday, the church said in a statement. Moon is to be buried on Mount Cheonseong.
Moon, who was born in a rural part of what is now North Korea, founded his religion in Seoul in 1954, a year after the end of the Korean War. He cultivated friends among political leaders in the U.S. and - though he was an ardent anti-communist - in North Korea, though he served time in prison in both countries.
He gained notoriety by marrying off thousands of followers in mass wedding ceremonies, usually not long after being arranged to marry by Moon himself.
The church has faced considerable controversy over the years, and has been accused of using devious recruitment tactics and duping followers out of money. Parents of young followers in the United States and elsewhere expressed worries that their children were brainwashed into joining.
The church rebuffs the allegations, saying many new religious movements faced similar accusations in their early years. Moon's followers were often called "Moonies," a term many found pejorative.
The church also quietly amassed lucrative business ventures over the years, including The Washington Times newspaper; the New Yorker Hotel, a midtown Manhattan art deco landmark; and a seafood distribution firm that supplies sushi to Japanese restaurants across the U.S. It gave the University of Bridgeport $110 million over more than a decade to keep the Connecticut school operating.
In South Korea, it acquired a ski resort, professional football teams, schools, hospitals, and other businesses. It also operates the Potonggang Hotel in Pyongyang, jointly operates the North Korean automaker and has a huge "peace" institute in the North Korean capital.
Moon had hoped to help bring about the reunification of Korea during his lifetime.
Moon was born in 1920 in North Phyongan Province at a time when Pyongyang was known as a center for Korea's Christians. He claimed that at age 16 Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him to finish the work he had begun on Earth 2,000 years earlier.
Christianity fell out of favor after the Korean Peninsula was divided into the communist North and the U.S.-backed South in 1945, and while preaching, Moon was imprisoned in the late 1940s by North Korean authorities and accused of spying for South Korea, an allegation he denied.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, he went to South Korea. After leaving his North Korean wife, he married Hak Ja Han Moon in 1960.
In South Korea, Moon quickly drew young acolytes to his conservative, family-oriented value system and unusual interpretation of the Bible. The church's doctrine is a mixture of Christian, Confucian, and traditional Korean values.
In the United States, Moon developed a good relationship with conservative American leaders such as former Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.
Yet he also served 13 months at a U.S. federal prison in the mid-1980s after a New York City jury convicted him of filing false tax returns. The church says the U.S. government persecuted Moon because of his growing influence and popularity with young Americans.
One of the more bizarre chapters in Moon's relationship with Washington came in 2004, when more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers attended a "coronation ceremony" for Moon and his wife in which Moon declared himself humanity's savior and said his teachings have helped Hitler and Stalin be "reborn as new persons." Some of the congressmen later said they had been misled and hadn't been aware that Moon would be at the event.
In later years, the church adopted a lower profile in the United States and focused on building its businesses. Moon lived for more than 30 years in the United States, the church said.
In recent years, Moon handed over day-to-day control of the empire to his children.
Moon and his wife have 10 surviving sons and daughters, according to the church.