WORLD / ASIA-PACIFIC
S.Korea sect leader cleared of hindering virus effort
Published: Jan 13, 2021 07:33 PM
The elderly leader of a secretive religious sect at the center of South Korea's early ­novel ­coronavirus outbreak was not guilty of hindering the government's virus prevention efforts, a district court ruled on Wednesday.

But Lee Man-hee was convicted of embezzling billions of won from his organization and given a suspended prison sentence.

The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which is often condemned as a cult, was at the center of huge controversy in early 2020 when it accounted for more than half of South Korea's coronavirus cases.

At the time, the country was enduring one of the worst early outbreaks of the disease outside China, but later largely brought it under control with widespread testing and tracing.

Shuncheonji's leader Lee, 89, was taken into custody in August and accused of giving health authorities inaccurate records of church gatherings and false lists of its members.

Prosecutors in December requested a five-year jail term. 

But the Suwon District Court cleared him of violating the infectious disease control law.

Lee apologized in March for the spread of the disease, twice getting to his knees to bow before reporters, his head to the floor.

"Although it was not intentional, many people have been infected," he said at the time.

"I seek the forgiveness of the people."

The church has also apologized, while more than 3,500 of its members who survived the virus donated blood plasma to help treatment research. 
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