The secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus was on the centre of public anger early final yr over a surge in instances traced to its followers.
The aged chief of a secretive spiritual sect on the centre of an early coronavirus outbreak in South Korea has been discovered not responsible of hindering the federal government’s virus prevention efforts.
However a district courtroom dominated on Wednesday that Lee Man-hee was responsible of embezzling billions of gained from his organisation and given a suspended jail sentence.
The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which is commonly condemned as a cult, was on the centre of big controversy early final yr when it emerged that the church accounted for greater than half of South Korea’s coronavirus instances.
On the time, the nation was enduring one of many worst early outbreaks of the illness outdoors China. It later introduced the virus beneath management with widespread testing and call tracing and strict quarantine measures.
Shincheonji’s chief Lee, 89, was taken into custody in August and accused of giving well being authorities inaccurate information of church gatherings and false lists of its members.
Prosecutors final month requested a five-year jail time period.
However the Suwon District Court docket cleared him of violating the infectious illness management regulation.
Lee apologised in March for the unfold of the illness, twice attending to his knees to bow earlier than reporters, his head to the ground.
“Though it was not intentional, many individuals have been contaminated,” he mentioned on the time.
“I search the forgiveness of the folks.”
The church has additionally apologised, whereas greater than 3,500 of its members who survived the virus donated blood plasma to assist therapy analysis.
Lee, who was arrested in August, was convicted on a separate cost of embezzling greater than 5.7 billion Korean gained ($5.2m) from Shincheonji and submitting false purposes to carry spiritual occasions at public sports activities services.
He was given a three-year suspended jail time period.
Researchers say the sect proclaims Lee has donned the mantle of Jesus Christ and can take 144,000 folks with him to heaven on the day of judgement.
In February, greater than 1.4 million folks signed a petition on the South Korean presidential workplace web site demanding its dissolution.
Shincheonji is thought to have some 200,000 followers and has claimed its members face social stigma and discrimination if their beliefs turn into publicly recognized, dissuading some from responding to official inquiries.
In current weeks South Korea has a number of occasions recorded greater than 1,000 new instances a day – low by international requirements, however its highest figures up to now – prompting the authorities to extend social distancing restrictions and step up testing.