Shincheonji Church of Jesus leader Lee Man-hee (Yonhap)
A local court granted bail to Lee Man-hee, the leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus which was at the center of South Korea’s early coronavirus outbreak in late February through March.
The Suwon District Court on Thursday accepted the bail request of Lee, 89, citing his old age, deteriorating health and low risks of him destroying evidence.
His bail bond is set at 100 million won, and Lee will be required to wear an electric device for his whereabouts to be tracked real-time. The court ordered Lee to not leave his residence.
The religious sect leader has been in detention since Aug. 1. Lee is accused of ordering church officials to withhold information on its congregants, their 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 assets. He requested bail on Sept. 18.
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 its followers to lie to authorities.
The church is to date the country’s single largest cluster of COVID-19 infections. Around 4,000 of its followers, most of them at its branch in Daegu, were infected with the coronavirus. Dozens of clusters were also linked to its members.
The Daegu city government has been suing Shincheonji for damages since June, demanding financial compensation of 100 billion won.
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