Fiji Launches Investigation into Sect after OCCRP Report

Published: 13 February 2023

Reverend Esther Okjoo Shin speaking in Grace Road Church in Navua hall in Fiji March 1 2017Reverend Esther Okjoo Shin speaking in Grace Road Church in Navua hall in Fiji. (Photo: Coverly, Wikimedia, License)

By Aubrey Belford

Fiji’s newly elected government has launched a probe into a South Korean doomsday sect, after an OCCRP investigation exposed how the religious group had come to be a dominating force in the Pacific nation’s economy.

Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka told local media last week that he had ordered his lands minister and foreign minister to reexamine the activities of the Grace Road Church during the rule of his predecessor, Frank Bainimarama.

“I’ve directed my staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to find out if Grace Road Church is an organization of good standing in the eyes of the Korean Government,” Rabuka told the Fiji Times. “We cannot be poorly briefed about what other foreign nationals do in our country and we have to be sure that they have support and the blessings of their home countries.”

OCCRP’s investigation in July revealed how Grace Road and its network of local businesses – including farms, supermarkets, and petrol stations — had received favorable treatment from Bainimarama’s government despite allegations that sect members were regularly beaten, had their movement restricted, and made to work without pay.

The investigation, done in collaboration with KCIJ-Newstapa, found Grace Road’s businesses had received at least FJ$8.5 million (US$3.8 million) in loans from the state-backed Fiji Development Bank. Reporters also found shortcomings in a Fijian police investigation into Grace Road members wanted on charges in South Korea, where the sect’s leader is also currently imprisoned.

Fijian Lands Minister Filimoni Vosarogo separately told the Fiji Times he had briefed the prime minister that Grace Road had made 31 purchases under Bainimarama’s government.

Bainimarama came to power in a 2006 coup, and continued to rule the country via his FijiFirst party after elections were restored in 2014. He was replaced by a coalition of parties led by Rabuka after FijiFirst lost its majority in an election held last December.