he Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the South Korean businessman who heads the controversial Unification Church, pleaded not guilty today to federal charges of filing false tax returns.

Later, Moon crossed the street from U.S. District Court to Foley Square and told hundreds of cheering followers, who had been bused in to demonstrate on his behalf, that he was a victim of "religious persecution and racism."

The 12-count indictment handed down Oct. 15 accuses Moon and a close aide, Takeru Kamiyama, of conspiring to defraud the government on taxes from 1973 through 1975.

The indictment alleges, among other things, that $1.6 million was deposited in a bank account for Moon's personal and business use, and that Moon failed to report on his tax returns some $112,000 in interest earned on the money. Moon is also charged with failing to report as income a $70,000 payment of stock to himself and his wife from an import firm he helped establish here.

Kamiyama is charged with aiding and assisting in filing the allegedly false income tax returns and with submitting false documents to the government, obstructing justice and committing perjury.

Security was extremely tight outside the jammed courtroom. Moon, 61, and the 39-year-old Kamiyama, who is Japanese, were accompanied by translators and their attorneys.

Moon shook hands with the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Flumenbaum, then muttered and wagged a finger at the government attorney.

Judge Charles Stewart freed Moon on a $250,000 personal recognizance bond. Moon was fingerprinted, turned over his passport and agreed not to leave the country. But the judge said he could go to South Korea for a three-week conference that begins Nov. 1. At that time, his bond will be increased to $500,000.

Kamiyama put up a $100,000 bond and also turned over his passport.

In a small park across from the historic courthouse, Moon's followers held a three-hour demonstration, complete with band and choral music and speeches claiming Moon's innocence. Vans with posters proclaiming "Rev. Moon, We Love You" circled the park, located near City Hall.

Speaking from a podium, Mose Durst, president of the church's American branch, generated cheers from the flag-waving demonstrators as he compared Moon to Socrates, Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King Jr. The youthful crowd was exhorted repeatedly to sing "We Shall Overcome," a popular civil rights song.

Moon read his speech in Korean and an interpreter repeated it in emotion-charged English. In it, Moon continued the theme set by Durst: that the indictment resulted from religious and racial persecution.

"I would not be standing here today if my skin were white and my religion were Presbyterian," Moon told the crowd. "I am here today only because my skin is yellow and my religion is Unification Church."

The Unification Church claims 3 million members in more than 100 countries.