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Calls for inquiry into Fiji government’s ties to South Korea’s Grace Road Church amid stalled abuse investigations

Fiji’s opposition parties have called for an immediate inquiry into a South Korean religious sect accused of abuse and ritual beatings after a report from investigative journalists alleged it had received millions in Fijian government-backed loans.

The Grace Road Church — which is often described as a “doomsday cult” — has been in the spotlight since its founder was sentenced in 2018 to six years in prison in South Korea for child abuse, false imprisonment and assaulting church followers in Fiji.

A police investigation into alleged breaches of Fijian law by the church remains open, but this hasn’t stopped the sect’s business empire from flourishing across the Pacific nation.

The sect brought around 400 of its followers to Fiji in 2014, claiming the island nation was chosen by God as a safe haven from an impending global famine and drought.

It now runs the country’s largest chain of restaurants, controls vast areas of farmland, and owns several supermarkets, mini-marts, and Mobil petrol stations.

And it has been able to build up its enterprises with help from the government, according to a new investigative report into the church.

The report by investigative journalists in the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism (KCIJ-Newstapa) alleges the church had received more than $FJ8.5 million ($5.6 million) in loans from the state- backed Fiji Development Bank (FDB).

The FDB reports to Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khayum, who dismissed the report and questioned the credibility of the OCCRP.

He told reporters outside parliament this week they should focus their attention on the “many faith-based organizations in Fiji where pastors have actually raped people”.

“Have they done a report on that?” he said.

Grace Road’s stores, restaurants and petrol stations are ubiquitous across Fiji.(Supplied: OCCRP)

‘A very warm welcome’

The OCCRP’s Pacific editor Aubrey Belford told the ABC’s Pacific Beat program the consortium’s six-month investigation was based on publicly available information, including property and court documents, as well as interviews with former sect members.

“We looked at the whole pattern since Grace Road started out in Fiji nearly a decade ago, and it’s received a very warm welcome from the Fijian government,” Belford said.

“What we found is that they’ve grown into one of the most significant business empires in Fiji right now.”

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