A South Korean pastor who was thought to be responsible for the largest outbreak of Covid-19 in the country has been arrested. Lee Man-hee, 88, of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, is accused of withholding the information of church members from contract tracers, after 5,000 of his flock became infected with virus.
Mr Lee is also accused of embezzling 5.6bn won (approximately £3.6m) and hosting unapproved religious events. In a statement, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus insisted that the issuing of an arrest warrant "doesn't mean a guilty verdict" and noted that "all possible efforts will be made to unveil the truth in the upcoming court trials".
The pastor was forced to apologise back in March after the massive outbreak among his followers that accounted for 36 per cent of the country's total recorded infections.
“I would like to offer my sincere apology to the people on behalf of the members," he said at the time, falling to his knees.
"Although it was not intentional, many people have been infected. We put our utmost efforts but were unable to prevent it all. I seek the forgiveness of the people.
“I am very thankful to the government for its efforts. I also seek the forgiveness of the government.”
In a warning issued back in 2016, the vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), Rev Nicky Gumbel, called the church a "potentially dangerous cult". At that time, a group known as 'Para Christo', who are thought to have links with Shincheonji, were operating in the Docklands area of London. In an email warning seen by the Daily Telegraph, Gumbel wrote:
"'ParaChristo' is connected to a South Korean cult called Shincheonji led by Leen Man-hee.
"As followers become more dedicated, they are taught that Lee Man-hee is the 'Advocate' and 'new John' who is to be worshipped.
"We are now in contact with other churches who have experience of this deceptive and potentially dangerous cult."
Lee Man-hee founded the Shincheonji Church in 1984 and sees himself as "the promised pastor" - his followers are convinced that their leader will take 144,000 people to heaven with him when Christ returns.