MHA probes local chapter of secretive S. Korea church

Church at the heart of virus outbreak in South Korea used 'deceptive methods' here

The Singapore chapter of the South Korean church had previously incorporated a front company called Spasie. When The Straits Times visited the firm's office in Ubi yesterday, it was closed.
The Singapore chapter of the South Korean church had previously incorporated a front company called Spasie. When The Straits Times visited the firm's office in Ubi yesterday, it was closed.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is looking to ban activities of the unregistered Singapore chapter of a secretive church at the centre of South Korea's coronavirus outbreak.

Five South Korean nationals and two Singaporeans are helping MHA with their investigations, the ministry said yesterday.

The South Korean church is known as the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (SCJ). Out of South Korea's 2,300-odd coronavirus cases, 840 are linked to the church.

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said the group, which he said has fewer than 100 members here, is being investigated under "national security legislation".

He added that while people here are free to believe in any religion, the Government will step in when "it crosses the line into criminality or potential public security issues".

"There was reason to believe that people were being misled and defrauded into certain actions, and the cult was behind it even though they put up front companies to carry out their actions," he said.

He added that the threat to Singapore currently is not high because the group's activities were picked up fairly quickly. "But we think the activities would be inimical to the broader public if (the group is) allowed to carry on."

The church allegedly regards all other churches and pastors as belonging to Satan.

MHA said: "SCJ teaches that it is acceptable to use deceit and lies if it serves God's purposes. It has been accused of infiltrating and disrupting established Korean churches by using deception and secrecy to trick people into becoming involved with them."

MHA also said the Singapore chapter of the church had used "similar deceptive methods", such as using front entities to target Christian youth and young adults to join their group.

"A controlling influence is then exerted over these young members, requiring them to comply with strict instructions to conceal the local existence of SCJ and their involvement with it," said MHA.

"Members are not allowed to contact one another, verify tea-chings with other churches or inform their families of their involvement."

The ministry said its investigations started as early as February last year, when the church's local chapter tried to register a company in Singapore under the name of Heavenly Culture, World Peace and Restoration of Light.

MHA objected to the registration of the company.

 
 
 
 

Investigations later found that the church had previously incorporated another front company called Spasie, which claimed to offer consultancy services.

The church also recently set up a sole proprietorship called Kings Ave. MHA said this is "a front, to lease property for use as a 'temple' ".

Checks by The Straits Times on the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority's website showed Spasie was incorporated on Dec 8, 2016. It has two listed directors and a secretary - all Singaporeans - and two shareholders - a South Korean and a South African.

Meanwhile, Kings Ave was incorporated on Dec 31 last year, and lists a Singapore citizen as the sole proprietor. It has since ceased registration.

MHA stepped up investigations after the church's practices were linked to the outbreak in Daegu.

It added, however, that members here who have been interviewed so far have not been in recent physical contact with people from the Daegu cluster.

Four of the South Koreans assisting the investigations entered Singapore before the outbreak of the virus in Daegu and Cheongdo. The fifth person came into Singapore on Feb 21, but the Ministry of Health's checks indicate that she is well, said MHA.

Spasie's office, located in Ubi, was closed when The Straits Times visited yesterday. Staff from a neighbouring unit said loud music was often heard from the unit on weekends. One staff member added that he often saw teenagers entering and leaving the place.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 29, 2020, with the headline 'MHA probes local chapter of secretive S. Korea church'. Subscribe