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Report: City of Seoul sues church group Shincheonji

Lee Man-hee, founder and leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, is being sued by the city of Seoul, according to a South Korean press report. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE
Lee Man-hee, founder and leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, is being sued by the city of Seoul, according to a South Korean press report. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

March 24 (UPI) -- The city of Seoul is suing the secretive South Korean religious organization that is being held responsible for the first massive outbreak of the new strain of coronavirus in the country.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon is suing the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, and its founder Lee Man-hee for 200,000,100 Korean won, or about $161,000, local television network JTBC reported Tuesday.

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The extra 100 won qualifies the civil lawsuit for an investigation by a panel of three judges. The amount also qualifies the city of Seoul to receive a dividend from the settlement department of South Korean courts. The cost of the lawsuit is likely to increase if the dividend is paid out and the city comes up with more specific damages, according to the report.

The city has been seeking to prosecute Shincheonji since February. The church was blamed for widespread infections that began with South Korea's Patient No. 31. The patient is believed to have attended services while sick, against health guidelines.

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The city has charged Shincheonji with providing an incomplete list of its members, impeding official capacity to track down infected people.

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Park has even charged the church's leadership with murder and has ordered tax investigations into the group.

According to Seoul, Shincheonji has "systematically interfered" with the country's policy of quarantine for people carrying the virus, the report says.

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On March 13, the city concluded a hearing for the purpose of revoking Shincheonji's corporate license. Seoul did not make public its lawsuit, which may have been leaked to local press, the JTBC report suggests.

South Korean officials say Shincheonji-related patients continue to occupy a large portion of coronavirus cases in the country.

Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director at the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday 56 percent of South Korean patients were infected through Shincheonji-related transmission routes, Yonhap reported.

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South Korea is also reporting 13 percent of all cases involve patients in their 20s.

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