The leader of a powerful church in South Korea has been arrested by authorities for allegedly obstructing the country’s efforts to contain the Coronavirus pandemic.
Lee Man-hee the head of the secretive and powerful Shicheonji Church of Jesus was arrested for being the direct cause of more than 5,200 coronavirus infections in South Korea; about 36 percent of the country’s total infection cases.
Authorities say Lee conspired with other church leaders to conceal information about church meetings and the number of participants as South Korea struggled to curtail the pandemic in February and March.
Lee held services with thousands of South Koreans in attendance against the directive of government at the time. He said the coronavirus was the seed the devil had planted to stop the growth of the church and encouraged his over 200,000 members across the country to attend church services.
Lee was forced to apologise to South Koreans in March after the branch of the Church in the city of Daegu became the biggest cluster of coronavirus cases in South Korea.
The church leader was arrested on Saturday after in court granted an arrest warrant after prosecutors expressed worry that Lee could tamper with evidence.
According to the Judge, Lee Meyong-chul; “there have been circumstances indicating systematic attempts to destroy evidence” and considering Lee’s status, “it cannot be ruled out that there will be similar attempts in the future.”
Seven other Church officials were indicted for violations of the infectious disease control law and obstruction of Justice on July 28.
The Shicheonji Church of Jesus has however denied the accusations, saying its leaders cooperated with health authorities. The leadership insisted that it never tried to hide anything from South Korean authorities but said it was concerned when officials requested for the personal information of its members.
It said the issuance of an arrest warrant for its leader by the court did not translate into guilt.
South Korea currently has 14,336 confirmed cases of coronavirus with 301 confirmed deaths.