South Korean Church Chief acquitted for blocking virus: Yonhap By Reuters

From Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – A South Korean court on Wednesday acquitted the leader of a Christian sect who is accused of obstructing efforts to combat one of the world’s first major rushes of novel coronavirus infections, Yonhap news agency said.

Lee Man-hee, a self-proclaimed Messiah who founded and directed the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, was accused of violating the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act by submitting incomplete lists of church members requested by health officials to detect suspected coronavirus infections.

The church was at the center of the first major COVID-19 epidemic outside of China early last year. Almost 4,200 of their 310,000 followers were infected after a service in Daegu city.

The authorities at the time complained that Lee did not fully cooperate in providing the names of anyone who might have attended services in the church.

Prosecutors had requested a five-year prison sentence and fined Lee 3 million won (US $ 2,700).

Lee denied any wrongdoing. He apologized that some members of the Church had discovered the virus.

Suwon District Court acquitted him of the charges and said lists of church members were not a key element of epidemiological investigation within the meaning of the law, Yonhap said.

However, the court found Lee guilty of embezzling 5.6 billion won ($ 5.11 million) in church funds to build a residence and use government facilities for religious services without permission, and sentenced him to one four year suspended sentence.

Court officials were not immediately available to comment.

The Church welcomed Lee’s acquittal on the COVID-19 allegations, but expressed “deep regret” that he had been found guilty.

It was said it was going to appeal to prove his innocence.

($ 1 = 1,094,9900 won)

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