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Govt stands by “doomsday sect”

The Fijian Government has questioned the credibility of the organisation that has conducted an investigative report into the Grace Road Church in Fiji.

The damning report was done by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), a consortium of investigative centres, media and journalists operating in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia and Central America.

The Grace Road Church from South Korea came into Fiji following a declaration by their spiritual leader that the island nation would be the only remaining safe haven as the world was bound towards apocalypse.

Since then the church began its operation around 2014 with an initial investment in agriculture by purchasing 400 hectares of land in Pacific Harbour outside of Suva. This has evolved into eight supermarkets, mini marts, five petrol stations, dentistry clinics, events catering, heavy construction and Korean beauty treatments. The church in Fiji is worth millions.

In 2016, Grace Road started the Grace Road Foundation which has gone on to rebuild villages struck by Cyclone Winston, a super cyclone which was said to then be strongest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Fijian and Korean staff of the Grace Road Food Company. Picture – Grace Road Facebook

The report by OCCPR alleged that the Fijian Government showed favouritism towards the church and had allowed the church, which it refers to as a doomsday sect, to carry on its investments in Fiji despite exploitation of church members who give their lives and money to the church and come and serve in Fiji.

In comments to local media, Fiji’s Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said he had not heard about the organisation that carried out the report, adding that organisations like the United Nations and Transparency International carried more weight and were credible.

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Despite his reference to Transparency International, the attorney-general failed to mention that the anti-corruption body he labelled credible only two weeks ago wrote, “Concerns have also been raised about restricted media freedom. In Fiji, laws provide the government with direct oversight of the media and the ability to heavily fine critics. This fosters a climate of fear that prevents journalists from exposing corruption.”

Fiji is currently ranked at 45 on the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Fiji’s Attorney General and Minister for Economy Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum. Picture – Fijian Government

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum also bizarrely claimed there were no reports on pastors from other faith based organisations raping members of their congregation in Fiji.

The OCCRP report claimed that there was inaction from the Fijian Government regarding the arrest of Grace Road directors even after giving assurance to the South Korean police.

Fiji’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Christopher Pryde is quoted as saying that although officials travelled to South Korea as part of a joint investigation following the 2018 arrests, police did not find enough evidence to justify prosecution.

According to the report, they were able to establish that, on their trip to South Korea, Fijian officers spoke to key witnesses who described alleged beatings and other abuses they suffered at the hands of some of the very same sect members who had been arrested and let go in 2018.

The OCCRP report said that in August 2018, a team of 17 South Korean police officers flew to Fiji on a secret mission: to take down the leaders of the Christian doomsday sect accused of taking away its adherents’ passports and subjecting them to ritual beatings, however subsequent arrests did not result in any prosecution.

Grace Road workers on a rice field. The Fijian Government has questioned the credibility of the organisation that has conducted an investigative report into the Grace Road Church. Picture – Grace Road Food Company Facebook

The Grace Road Church’s members are mostly Koreans who work in operations however the church employs hundreds of Fijians and has been a significant contributor to the Fijian economy.

In 2017, the company was awarded with the Primary Industry Business Excellence Award under the Prime Minister’s Excellence Award.

The OCCRP report revealed that former members of the church described ill treatment and assaults as punishment for breaking laws within the community. All church members stay in the Grace Road compounds which are in Navua and properties around Suva and greater Suva area.

Reverend Shin, the leader of the church, was arrested in Seoul and convicted of abuse, slavery and related crimes, for which she is serving a seven year jail term.

Questions have been sent to various Fiji Government agencies but there has been no responses.

While the report has painted a bleak picture of Grace Road, the church has denied the claims made in the report.

In Fiji many have viewed the church as an agricultural innovator who has made use of land available in Fiji.

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