South Korea arrests leader of sect that was focus of major COVID-19 outbreak

Seoul, Aug 1 (efe-epa).- The leader of a Christian sect in South Korea was arrested Saturday for allegedly trying to obstruct the government’s efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Shincheonji Church of Jesus, led by 89-year old founder Lee Man-hee, became the epicenter of the main COVID-19 outbreak that has affected South Korea.

A court in Suwon, south of Seoul, issued an arrest warrant for Lee on suspicion of submitting false documents to health authorities regarding the number of participants at the sect’s gatherings in February, as well as their locations.

It was during that month that the fringe religious group became a hot spot for the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

Lee is also accused of embezzling some 5.6 billion won (around $4.6 million) from the sect’s funds and of organizing unauthorized religious events between 2015 and 2019, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

The court observed that several of the charges have been “ascertained” and that there have been circumstances indicating systematic attempts to destroy evidence by Lee and a risk of similar attempts being made in the future.

Prosecutors questioned him twice last month, filed the arrest request on Tuesday, and the court held a hearing to review it on Friday.

In July, seven other senior members of the sect were also accused of obstructing investigations and violating infectious disease control laws, with three of them arrested.

Some 4,000 Shincheonji members, mainly from the city of Daegu, about 230 kilometers (143 miles) southeast of Seoul, were infected with COVID-19 and became the source of an outbreak that caused more than 5,000 cases in total.

This figure is more than one-third of the total confirmed cases (14,305) recorded in the country so far.

The Shincheonji Church of Jesus cult was founded by Lee in 1984 and does not have a favorable image among the South Korean public.

Some privy to the activities of the group regard it as destructive because of the effect it has had on some of its members, who cut off all ties with friends and family, and the secrecy concerning many of its activities, including maneuvers to gain new followers. EFE-EPA


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