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S.Korean sect leader arrested for obstructing anti-pandemic efforts

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The leader of a South Korean religious sect, which was at the centre of the early coronavirus outbreak in the country, was arrested on Saturday for allegedly obstructing the government’s efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic.

A local court in Suwon, south of Seoul, issued an arrest warrant for Lee Man-hee, the founder of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, reports Yonhap News Agency.

Lee, 89, is suspected of submitting false documents to health authorities on the number of participants at the sect’s gatherings and where the gatherings took place in February, when the fringe religious sect became a hotspot in the early phase of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

He is also accused of embezzling 5.6 billion won ($4 million) from church funds and holding unauthorized religious events from 2015-19.

Prosecutors questioned him twice, on July 17 and 23, and filed for his arrest warrant Tuesday.

The court held a hearing to review the request Friday.

Seven senior officials from the group’s headquarters were indicted on July 28 on charges including violation of the infectious disease control law and obstruction of justice.

Three of them were arrested on July 8, said the Yonhap News Agency report.

Some 4,000 Shincheonji followers, most of whom were from its branch in the southeastern city of Daegu, were infected with the coronavirus.

South Korea’s COVID-19 caseload increased by 31 to 14,336 on Saturday, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

More than 5,000 of them are associated with Shincheonji.

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