LOS ANGELES: A California appeals court ruled that a human trafficking and child rape case against a Mexican mega-church leader must be thrown out due to procedural errors Tuesday.
Naason Joaquin Garcia, head of the La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World) organisation which claims five million members worldwide, was arrested by US authorities last year.
He was charged in June with multiple felonies, including rape of a minor and extortion allegedly committed in Los Angeles county between 2015 and 2018. Garcia has denied all wrongdoing.
But judges found that the process for an amended charge sheet filed a month later – which added counts of child pornography – was flawed because he was not granted a preliminary trial within 10 days.
Garcia remains in custody and the court’s decision is not final for 30 days.
“Our office is reviewing the court’s decision,” a spokesman for the California prosecutor’s office told AFP.
Garcia, who claims to be the last apostle of Jesus, and three female co-defendants are accused of coercing minor girls into performing sexual acts by telling them that going against his wishes would be acting against God.
It is not clear how Tuesday’s decision affects the co-defendants, one of whom remains at large.
The church was founded in 1926 by Eusebio Joaquin Gonzalez – Garcia’s grandfather –who claimed to have experienced a “divine revelation.”
In March, Mexican authorities froze nearly US$20 million in the accounts of six people linked to the church.