Sep 7, 2023

Doomsday cult members deported from Fiji, but leader is in hiding

September 7, 2023

Fijian authorities announced on Thursday that a task force had captured and deported two out of six members of the Korean doomsday Christian cult, Grace Road.

All six individuals have been declared "prohibited immigrants". The group's leader and another is on the run.

Two members were deported to South Korea accompanied by a Korean interpreter and four Fiji Police officers; two more were released after a High Court order and remain in Fiji.

Grace Road leader Daniel Kim and one other cult member remain on the run with their whereabouts unknown.

"On 6 September 2023, a task force consisting of the Fiji Police force and immigration officers began the removal of these individuals," Fiji Minister for Home Affairs Pio Tikoduadua said at a media conference in Suva.

"Of these, four were successfully apprehended."

Tikoduadua said during the removal process, Fiji Airways declined to transport two of them due to the High Court order.

"The Solicitor General has received this court order for review. So these two people I'm referring to have been removed from the plane and only two had gone," he said.

He said the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration is exploring legal options under the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters 1997 and the Extradition Act 2003, given these individuals are subject to Interpol Red notices.

"It is important to note that Fiji and the Republic of Korea do not currently have an extradition treaty in place," Tikoduadua said.

"The Solicitor General has indicated plans to challenge the court order.

"The Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration will continue to monitor and address the situation in line with our legal procedures."

Tikoduadua said they welcomed information on the whereabouts of the two fugitives on the run, as they are "prohibited immigrants in Fiji".

"We're unable to reach them and the relevant authorities are looking for them."

He said Fiji had removed citizens of other countries who were wanted by Interpol - four since he took office.

"We have been consistent in the way that we apply the law."

Red carpet treatment
In July 2022, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Korean Centre for Investigative Journalists published an investigation that highlighted the rapid expansion of Grace Road under Frank Bainimarama's FijiFirst government.

The investigation found that the sect operated the country's largest chain of restaurants, controlling roughly 400 hectares of farmland, owning almost a dozen supermarkets and mini marts, and ran half a dozen Mobil petrol stations.

Its other businesses also provide services such as dentistry, events catering, heavy construction, and Korean beauty treatments, the OCCRP investigation found.

The investigations also uncovered Fijian police's failure at the time to investigate and charge the top leaders of the sect who were arrested in 2018 on allegations of human rights abuses of its followers, but were released soon after when "a local court temporarily blocked their deportation".

OCCRP Pacific editor Aubrey Belford told RNZ Pacific in August 2022, the core issue with Grace Road in Fiji was the perception it had been given the red carpet treatment by the FijiFirst government.

"They showed up in the country less than 10 years ago and in that time they have managed to build what is now one of the biggest business empires in the country," Belford said.

"We counted 54 business establishments currently running in the country - 55 if you count the huge farm they have in Navua. They're really everywhere."

He said the OCCRP was also able to uncover that the Fijian Development Bank provided Grace Road millions of dollars in loans to finance its business aspirations.

Belford said the police investigation into the alleged abuses of its members in Fiji had been ongoing for several years but had "gone nowhere" despite Fijian police officers travelling to Seoul to collect victim statements from key witnesses.

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