Fiji prison officers punished over cult ‘favors’

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Fiji prison chiefs said Monday they had punished 11 officers for receiving free meals and other favors from businesses linked to South Korea’s “Grace Road” cult.

Grace Road Church founder Shin Ok-ju prophesied that South Korea would be doomed by famine and disaster, persuading hundreds of followers in 2014 to start a new life in tropical Fiji.

The movement quickly established political and commercial sway there, buying agricultural land and building a network of successful companies.

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But it was also dogged by claims of bizarre rituals, and Shin was imprisoned by a South Korean court in 2019 on a string of criminal charges including violence, child abuse and fraud in Fiji.

The Fiji Corrections Office said it had launched an investigation following reports that some of its prison officers had received “favors” from a Suva Remand Centre prisoner, Jung Young Kim.

“The investigation revealed that officers and their families were receiving free meals and groceries from Grace Road businesses located in and around the Suva area,” the corrections office said in a statement on social media.

Their conduct was “in direct violation” of the service’s ethical obligations and regulations, it added.

The 11 officers identified as being involved “will face disciplinary action,” the prison service said, without giving further details.

Last year, Fiji immigration authorities said they were kicking out seven high-ranking members of Grace Road, including Shin’s son Daniel Kim, declaring them to be “prohibited migrants.”

A South Korean court in 2019 heard harrowing allegations about the experiences of former Grace Road Church members.

“The victims suffered helplessly from collective beatings and experienced not only physical torture but also severe fear and considerable mental shock,” said a judgement by the Anyang sub-court of the Suwon District Court.

Some former followers told journalists that those who attempted to leave the church were punished with public beatings known as “ground threshings.”

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