The head of a secretive South Korean church that was at the centre of the country’s initial coronavirus outbreak in February was questioned on Friday by state prosecutors over alleged obstruction of quarantine efforts and other irregularities.
Lee Man-hee, the leader of the Shincheonji Church, was interrogated at the Suwon District Prosecutors Office in Suwon, south of Seoul, for four hours before he was allowed to return home as he complained of chronic illness, according to Yonhap news agency.
Lee, 88, is accused of ordering church officials to hide the identities of some followers, as well as information about where the church’s secretive indoctrination sessions took place, acts that hampered contact tracing by health authorities.
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He also allegedly ordered the destruction of evidence and embezzled church funds.
This is the first time that the octogenarian religious leader has been questioned by judicial authorities in connection with the outbreak.
The move followed the arrest of three other Shincheonji officials on charges of obstructing justice and destroying evidence.
The trio are accused of handing in false documents to health authorities in February about the number of followers and venues for past gatherings when the Covid-19 outbreak began to spread quickly.
Church officials have concealed the names of followers as many of them fear being shunned by relatives and colleagues if their affiliation with the secretive sect is revealed.
The church, which boasts more than 100,000 followers, came under harsh criticism in the early phase of South Korea’s epidemic as it became a hotbed for Covid-19. Thousands of followers at the Shincheonji branch in the southeastern city of Daegu were infected by the highly contagious virus.
The church’s aggressive proselytising methods and secretive indoctrination sessions that take place in closed and crowded spaces have been largely blamed for spreading the virus rapidly.
In an apparent bid to appease the public, the church this week announced that some 500 followers who had recovered from Covid-19 would donate their convalescent serum to help treat others.
South Korea has successfully flattened the curve of the disease, reporting between 11 and 21 new daily cases over the past week and posting a total caseload of 13,672 on Friday.
Jung Eun-kyeong, head of South Korea’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, on Friday stressed the importance of face masks to ward off the virus.
Last month, an infected person shared a taxi with three other people in the southern city of Gwangju for an hour but no transmission occurred as all the four people wore face masks, she said.
At a church in Gyeonggi Province, an infected mother and her daughter attended three separate prayer sessions in a period of a week, where a total of 9,000 other followers took part.
But no transmission occurred there either as the church made it a rule for all participants in religious gatherings to cover their faces.
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This article Coronavirus: leader of Shincheonji church questioned by South Korean prosecutors first appeared on South China Morning Post