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South Korean Church Leader Gets Suspended Prison Term After Virus Fallout

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SEOUL, South Korea — The chief of a secretive spiritual sect that was on the heart of a coronavirus outbreak in South Korea final 12 months acquired a three-year jail time period on Wednesday on costs of embezzling church cash.

But Lee Man-hee, 89, the founding father of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, was acquitted on a cost of conspiring to impede the health authorities’ efforts to combat the virus. Mr. Lee’s jail time period was suspended for 4 years, which implies that he’ll stay free except he commits a criminal offense inside that point.

The fast unfold of the virus among the many church’s worshipers in Daegu, a metropolis within the southeast, in February and early March final 12 months had briefly made South Korea home to the world’s largest coronavirus outbreak exterior China. A complete of 5,213 instances have been discovered amongst church members and their contacts, in accordance with authorities knowledge.

Prosecutors arrested Mr. Lee in August on costs that he and different church officers had obstructed the federal government’s efforts to combat the epidemic by not totally disclosing the variety of worshipers and their gathering locations. Mr. Lee was additionally accused of embezzling 5.6 billion gained, or $5.1 million, from church funds to construct an opulent “peace palace” north of Seoul, the capital.

He was additionally accused of utilizing public amenities for spiritual actions with out permission from the native authorities.

Mr. Lee was launched on bail final November. On Wednesday, a decide within the district courtroom of Suwon, south of Seoul, dominated {that a} failure to supply a full record of worshipers and church amenities didn’t quantity to impeding the federal government’s disease-control efforts.

Mr. Lee’s church welcomed the acquittal, however stated he would enchantment to a better courtroom to attempt to reverse his conviction on embezzlement and different costs.

During the trial, Mr. Lee had denied all costs in opposition to him. In an earlier assertion, his church stated Mr. Lee by no means supposed to hamper the federal government’s efforts to manage the epidemic, and had urged church members to cooperate with the health authorities.

But prosecutors demanded that the courtroom sentence him to 5 years in jail.

Mr. Lee’s church has confronted intense criticism from the general public, and he apologized to South Koreans in March. Parents who accused the church of luring and brainwashing their kids with its unorthodox teachings have known as Mr. Lee a “religious con artist.” The church has dismissed the accusations as groundless.

At the height of the outbreak spreading from the church, South Korea reported as many as 900 new instances a day. But that outbreak has been eclipsed by a brand new wave of infections that started spreading primarily by means of the populous Seoul metropolitan space in November. The nation, which has a inhabitants of about 50 million individuals, reported a document 1,240 new instances on Christmas Day.

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