Sect Leader Cleared of Hindering Coronavirus Fight

  • By Kwon Sang-eun

    January 14, 2021 12:11

    The leader of the secretive Shincheonji sect was cleared on Wednesday of hindering the government's disease prevention efforts amid a coronavirus surge early last year.

    But the court found Lee Man-hee (90) guilty of embezzlement and holding illegitimate gatherings in public facilities and let him off with a four-year suspended sentence.

    Sincheonji sect leader Lee Man-hee arrives at the Suwon District Court in Gyeonggi Province on Nov. 18, 2020. /Yonhap

    The Suwon District Court ruled that health officials stepped out of line by demanding that the sect hand over a list of all places of worship and all followers, regardless whether they were infected.

    The sect became a hotbed of coronavirus infections in March last year.

    Lee had been indicted for colluding with sect officials to conceal many of its places of worships and followers.

    Presiding judge Kim Mi-kyung said demands by the government to hand over the information "were not part of epidemiological studies but merely constituted data collection. It cannot be proven that the defendant hindered epidemiological studies or deliberately left out names seeking to obstruct government quarantine efforts."

    But the judge ruled that Lee was guilty of appropriating around W5.6 billion from the sect's coffers in the process of building a new church and holding rallies at public facilities without permission from the authorities.

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