South Korean Church Chief Acquitted of Blocking Antivirus Efforts

SEOUL, South Korea — The chief of a secretive non secular sect that was on the heart of a coronavirus outbreak in South Korea final yr obtained a three-year jail time period on Wednesday on prices 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 struggle the virus.

Mr. Lee’s jail time period was suspended for 4 years, which implies 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 dwelling to the world’s largest coronavirus outbreak exterior 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 information.

Prosecutors arrested Mr. Lee in August on prices that he and different church officers had obstructed the federal government’s efforts to struggle the epidemic by not totally disclosing the variety of worshipers and their gathering locations. Mr. Lee was additionally accused of embezzling 5.6 billion received, or $5.1 million, from church funds to construct an expensive “peace palace” north of Seoul, the capital, and of holding unauthorized non secular occasions at public amenities. 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 dwelling, 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 dad and mom that Mr. Lee is a “non secular 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 via the populous Seoul metropolitan space in November. The nation, which has a inhabitants of about 50 million folks, reported a file 1,240 new instances on Christmas Day.

Mr. Lee, who was launched on bail in November, denied all prices towards him in the course of the trial. In an earlier assertion, his church mentioned 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 decide within the district court docket of Suwon, south of Seoul, dominated {that a} failure to supply a full listing of worshipers and church amenities didn’t quantity to impeding the federal government’s disease-control efforts.

Mr. Lee’s church welcomed the acquittal, however mentioned he would attraction his conviction on embezzlement and different prices.

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