Lee Man-hee, the leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus (Yonhap)
A local court has started reviewing whether to issue an arrest warrant for Lee Man-hee, the leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, over allegations that he and his religious sect obstructed the government’s efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Suwon District Court is expected to reach a decision later Friday or early Saturday. The court previously issued arrest warrants for Shincheonji’s three senior officials who are also accused of obstructing contact tracing efforts.
The 89-year-old religious sect leader is under investigation for alleged false reporting of the numbers of participants at the group’s gatherings and the locations of those gatherings in February.
Lee is also suspected of destroying evidence in preparation of a probe and misusing around 5.6 billion won of Shincheonji’s assets. Prosecutors called him in twice this month in regards to the investigation and filed for the warrant Tuesday.
Shincheonji has claimed that it has closely cooperated with authorities and was honest in providing all requested data to officials. It added that the religious sect never ordered any followers to provide false information to authorities.
The religious group was at the center in the early stage of the coronavirus outbreak in Korea through March, with a large number of its followers being confirmed as patients and accused of spreading the virus.
Around 4,000 followers, most of them at the religious sect’s branch in Daegu, were infected with the coronavirus. Dozens of new infection cases were reported from those who came in contact with the followers in most major cities.
Daegu city government has been pursuing a claim of 100 billion won in losses against Shincheonji for failing to cooperate with disease control authorities while hampering and worsening the city’s early response to the deadly virus.
The city found in its March investigation that the church held worship events, despite the municipality’s administrative order against mass gatherings.
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org