Elderly Sect Leader Arrested For Obstructing Coronavirus Containment

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The leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus has been arrested. He was arrested on Saturday for obstructing government efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. Lee Man-hee, 88, is the head of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which is often condemned as a cult.

Lee is suspected of submitting inaccurate documents to health authorities back in February regarding the number of participants and gathering places when the virus was spreading among Shincheonji members.

He is also accused of embezzling 5.6 billion won ($4.69 million) from church funds and holding religious events at public facilities without approval.

People linked to the church accounted for more than half of the South’s 4,000-plus coronavirus cases in February when the country was enduring one of the worst early outbreaks in the world. As of July 19, those connected with the church made up 38 percent of all confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to a court spokesperson who spoke to AFP, he was taken into custody early Saturday “after the Suwon District Court granted an arrest warrant at 1:20 am”.

The judge said there “have been circumstances indicating systematic attempts to destroy evidence” by Lee, Yonhap news agency reported.

Shincheonji has claimed its members face social stigma and discrimination if their beliefs become publicly known, dissuading some from responding to official inquiries.
He apologized back in March for the spread of the disease. The South has since been returning largely to normal, appears to have brought the outbreak under control with an extensive “trace, test and treat” program.

Officials in the East Asian nation of 52 million announced 31 new cases Saturday, taking the total to 14,336. Prosecutors will carry out further investigations and refer him to trial on these charges.

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