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(2nd LD) Charity group returns Shincheonji's 12 bln-won donation

National 17:20 March 06, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with latest cases in 2nd to last para)

SEOUL, March 6 (Yonhap) -- A charity group said Friday it has decided to return a huge donation made by a minor religious sect to help in the nationwide fight against the virus, citing the negative public sentiment against the group.

The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which is at the center of a rapid increase in coronavirus cases in South Korea, said on Thursday that it had donated 12 billion won (US$10.1 million) to the Seoul-based Community Chest of Korea, saying that it feels responsibility for the massive number of virus infections.

"The Community Chest of Korea suggested it give back the money, citing negative public sentiment against the Shincheonji church," the church said. "We express our apologies to the public and will seek (other) ways to make a donation as soon as possible."

The charity confirmed that the donation was made without prior consultations with the group and that it will thus refund the donation.

"We've verified the intention to make the massive donation," the organization said. "Considering morally and legally sensitive situations surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak, we agreed with the Shincheonji church to return it."

The Daegu municipal government, meanwhile, also refused to accept part of the donation through the charity.

The church earlier said its branch in Daegu has offered 10 billion won and that its headquarters granted 2 billion won.

"We decided not to receive 10 billion deposited in the account of the Daegu office of the Community Chest of Korea by the Shincheonji church in Daegu," said Mayor Kwon Young-jin. "Shincheonji should focus more on supporting the government's quarantine measures, instead of paying money."

Kwon cited some cases of Shincheonji followers who refuse to be admitted to state-run treatment centers for coronavirus patients or to be tested for infection.

Last week, the city government took legal action against the local church for hindering the government-led disease control efforts by providing false information.

The branch of the Shincheonji church in the southeastern city of Daegu is thought to be the epicenter of the latest spike in infections. The number of COVID-19 infections in the country reached 6,593 on Friday.

Earlier this week, Lee Man-hee, the founder of the homegrown religion, apologized for the spread of the disease and vowed to fully cooperate with government efforts to combat it.

The Community Chest of Korea (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

brk@yna.co.kr
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