Daegu sues Shincheonji church over massive virus cluster

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Daegu sues Shincheonji church over massive virus cluster

Daegu is seeking 100 billion won ($82.3 million) in damages from the Shincheonji Church of Jesus and its leader Lee Man-hee in a lawsuit that blames the controversial sect for a massive cluster of Covid-19 cases that emerged in the city in mid-February.
City officials said Monday that the compensation claim was filed with the Daegu District Court on May 18. 
The cluster that emerged from the Daegu church earned the cult-like group international notoriety and remains Korea's largest hot spot to date, with nearly 5,000 nationwide cases traced, or about 40 percent of the country’s total case load today.
There were only 30 Covid-19 patients in Korea before the 31st patient became the first member of the Shincheonji Daegu church to be diagnosed, on Feb. 18. The case immediately led to three-digit increases in daily reported infections in Korea, which for several weeks contained the second-highest number of patients in the world, after China.
It’s the second time that a local government office in Korea filed a legal suit against the Shincheonji church for compensation, after the Seoul Metropolitan Government demanded 200 million won in March.
Daegu officials chiefly blamed the sect for sabotaging the city government’s contact tracing efforts when the cluster first broke out, by initially refusing to submit a full list of Shincheonji adherents in Daegu. In doing so, the sect effectively enabled infected church members to continue circulating uninterrupted in the community, spreading the virus and incurring astronomic hospital fees and economic damage, Daegu officials alleged.
All in all, the city office said Daegu suffered nearly 146 billion won in economic damages from the cluster, and warned that a second compensation claim against Shincheonji was under review.  
Daegu officials said the court handed down a provisional seizure order earlier this month of the group’s church building in the city, worth about 10 billion won, along with some of Lee’s savings. The city office said it was considering filing for another provisional seizure of Lee’s property in Gyeonggi as a follow-up measure.
The Shincheonji church did not publicly comment on the lawsuit Monday. The group of seven lawyers representing Daegu in the case said the city has so far made no effort to settle the case outside the court.
BY KIM YOUN-HO, LEE SUNG-EUN   [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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