South Korean sect chief acquitted over COVID case surge

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The secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus was on the centre of public anger early final 12 months over a surge in circumstances traced to its followers.

The aged chief of a secretive non secular sect on the centre of an early coronavirus outbreak in South Korea has been discovered not responsible of hindering the federal government’s virus prevention efforts.

However a district courtroom dominated on Wednesday that Lee Man-hee was responsible of embezzling billions of gained from his organisation and given a suspended jail sentence.

The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which is commonly condemned as a cult, was on the centre of big controversy early final 12 months when it emerged that the church accounted for greater than half of South Korea’s coronavirus circumstances.

On the time, the nation was enduring one of many worst early outbreaks of the illness outdoors China. It later introduced the virus underneath management with widespread testing and make contact with tracing and strict quarantine measures.

Shincheonji’s chief Lee, 89, was taken into custody in August and accused of giving well being authorities inaccurate information of church gatherings and false lists of its members.

Prosecutors final month requested a five-year jail time period.

Lee Man-hee, chief of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which was on the centre of the early coronavirus outbreak in South Korea, is launched from a detention centre in Suwon, South Korea [EPA-EFE]

However the Suwon District Court docket cleared him of violating the infectious illness management regulation.

Lee apologised in March for the unfold of the illness, twice attending to his knees to bow earlier than reporters, his head to the ground.

“Though it was not intentional, many individuals have been contaminated,” he mentioned on the time.

“I search the forgiveness of the individuals.”

The church has additionally apologised, whereas greater than 3,500 of its members who survived the virus donated blood plasma to assist remedy analysis.

Lee, who was arrested in August, was convicted on a separate cost of embezzling greater than 5.7 billion Korean gained ($5.2m) from Shincheonji and submitting false purposes to carry non secular occasions at public sports activities services.

He was given a three-year suspended jail time period.

Researchers say the sect proclaims Lee has donned the mantle of Jesus Christ and can take 144,000 individuals with him to heaven on the day of judgement.

In February, greater than 1.4 million individuals signed a petition on the South Korean presidential workplace web site demanding its dissolution.

Shincheonji is thought to have some 200,000 followers and has claimed its members face social stigma and discrimination if their beliefs grow to be publicly identified, dissuading some from responding to official inquiries.

In current weeks South Korea has a number of occasions recorded greater than 1,000 new circumstances a day – low by international requirements, however its highest figures to this point – prompting the authorities to extend social distancing restrictions and step up testing.