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South Korea Arrests Leader of Church With Big Cluster

FILE - People watch a broadcast report about Lee Man-hee, a leader of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, March 2, 2020. Man-hee apologized for causing the "unintentional" spread of COVID-19.

South Korean prosecutors arrested the elderly leader of a secretive religious sect Saturday as part of an investigation into allegations that the church hampered the government's anti-virus response after thousands of worshippers were infected in February and March.

Prosecutors in the central city of Suwaon have been questioning 88-year-old Lee Man-hee, chairman of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, over charges that the church hid some members and underreported gatherings to avoid broader quarantines.

The Suwon District Court early Saturday granted prosecutors' request to arrest Lee over concerns that he could temper with evidence.

Lee and his church have steadfastly denied the accusations, saying they're cooperating with health authorities. The church's spokesperson, Kim Young-eun, said the church will do its best so that ``the truth is clearly proved in court.''

More than 5,200 of the South Korea's 14,336 coronavirus cases have been linked to the church. Its branch in the southern city of Daegu emerged as the biggest cluster after infections spiked in late February.

Health authorities used an aggressive test-and-quarantine program to contain the outbreak in Daegu and nearby towns by April, but the country has seen a resurgence of the virus in the Seoul metropolitan area since late May.