Mon. Jan 18th, 2021
South Korean Church Leader Acquitted of Blocking Antivirus Efforts


SEOUL, South Korea — The chief of a secretive spiritual sect that was on the middle of a coronavirus outbreak in South Korea final yr obtained a three-year jail time period on Wednesday on expenses together with embezzling church cash.

However Lee Man-hee, 89, the founding father of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, was acquitted on a cost of conspiring to impede the well being authorities’ efforts to combat the virus.

Mr. Lee’s jail time period was suspended for 4 years, which signifies that he’ll stay free except he commits a criminal offense inside that point.

The fast unfold of the virus among the many church’s worshipers in Daegu, a metropolis within the southeast, in February and early March final yr had briefly made South Korea residence to the world’s largest coronavirus outbreak outdoors China. A complete of 5,213 of the nation’s greater than 68,000 instances have been discovered amongst church members and their contacts, based on authorities knowledge.

Prosecutors arrested Mr. Lee in August on expenses that he and different church officers had obstructed the federal government’s efforts to combat the epidemic by not absolutely disclosing the variety of worshipers and their gathering locations. Mr. Lee was additionally accused of embezzling 5.6 billion gained, or $5.1 million, from church funds to construct an expensive “peace palace” north of Seoul, the capital, and of holding unauthorized spiritual occasions at public services. Prosecutors had sought a five-year jail time period.

Mr. Lee’s church — which he says has 245,000 followers in South Korea and overseas — has confronted intense criticism at residence, and he apologized to South Koreans in March over the variety of instances tied to it. However the church has dismissed claims that its actions contributed to the unfold of the virus, in addition to accusations from mother and father that Mr. Lee is a “spiritual con artist” whose church has lured and brainwashed their youngsters with its unorthodox teachings.

On the peak of the outbreak spreading from the church, South Korea reported as many as 900 new instances a day. However that outbreak has been eclipsed by a brand new wave of infections that started spreading primarily by the populous Seoul metropolitan space in November. The nation, which has a inhabitants of about 50 million individuals, reported a report 1,240 new instances on Christmas Day.

Mr. Lee, who was launched on bail in November, denied all expenses in opposition to him in the course of the trial. In an earlier assertion, his church stated Mr. Lee by no means supposed to hamper the federal government’s efforts to regulate the epidemic, and had urged church members to cooperate with the well being authorities.

On Wednesday, a choose within the district courtroom of Suwon, south of Seoul, dominated {that a} failure to supply a full checklist of worshipers and church services didn’t quantity to impeding the federal government’s disease-control efforts.

Mr. Lee’s church welcomed the acquittal, however stated he would enchantment his conviction on embezzlement and different expenses.

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