End is nigh for Korean preacher

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DOOMSDAY has arrived one month early for a Korean church leader who had been predicting the end of the world for 28 October, writes Terry McCarthy.

South Korean police have arrested Lee Jang Lim, head of the Tami Missionary Church, on charges of defrauding his followers and of violating foreign exchange laws.

Earlier this year, Mr Lee had started preaching that the end of the world was nigh, and his message caught on so quickly that the authorities began to get alarmed. Around 100,000 people have thrown their lot in with the eschatological movement, and many donated money, gave up their jobs and even got divorced to ensure they would be among the chosen ones at the Second Coming.

In the last few weeks, families of the believers had been anxiously pleading with the police to do something out of fear of a rash of suicides if the Second Coming did not come. Korea has a penchant for radical religions, and is the home of, among others, Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

However, the police needed evidence that Mr Lee had broken the law, since his sermons, although disturbing, were protected under the country's guarantee of freedom of religion. They began to get suspicious when it was discovered he had received about 3bn won ( pounds 2.3m) in donations from his flock. When it was also discovered that he was converting some of this into dollars, illegally, the police raided his house.

They found large amounts of cash, and, most incriminating of all, 300m won in bonds that were due to mature in 1995 - three years after the end of the world, according to Mr Lee's sermons. The police say they suspect he was planning to flee the country.

'Judging by circumstantial evidence, such as the content of his preaching, donation control method and private use of money, Mr Lee is suspected of fraud,' said a police spokesman.