Dahn Yoga founder Ilchi Lee's NZ residency under investigation

New Zealand Herald/January 18, 2018

By Lincoln Tan

A controversial South Korean spiritual leader who has New Zealand residency is under Immigration New Zealand watch — and could face deportation.

Seung Heun Lee, known as Ilchi Lee to his followers, gained residency under the investor category after bringing in funds to meet the category's requirement.

Lee has purchased land in Northland as part of a global plan to recruit 100 million members for his Earth Citizen Organisation movement.

INZ area manager Marcelle Foley said the agency and the Labour Inspectorate had looked into companies associated with Lee, including Double Pine Investment Ltd, Meditation Tour Ltd and Body and Brain Yoga Ltd.

Foley confirmed that Lee was granted a resident visa in June 2015.

"INZ is investigating the grant of residence to Mr Lee to determine whether he may be liable for deportation," Foley said.

"It is not possible to say how long this may take. For legal and privacy reasons, INZ can make no further comment."

Investigations into his associated business had uncovered breaches to employment and immigration rules.

"Breaches of record-keeping obligations and holiday pay were identified," Foley said.

"One person at Double Pine and one person at Body and Brain Yoga have been found to be in breach of their visas."

Double Pine and Meditation Tours have both been issued Improvement Notices, which had been partially complied with.

Double Pine is also embroiled in an employment dispute with a Northland-based staffer.

Lee's spokeswoman Yewon Hwang said Lee's lawyers are in communication with INZ over the immigration investigations which involved mistakes made by his immigration adviser in the original residence visa application.

Hwang said the company had also "secured the assistance of a competent accountant advisor" and better software system to address holiday pay and record keeping.

"There was someone helping Ilchi Lee with his visa status because his English is not fluent, and Ilchi Lee has taken the initiative to provide relevant information to INZ to clear up potential cause of misunderstanding," Hwang said.

"The investigation by INZ is currently underway ... we remain optimistic that when they reach the conclusion of the investigation, the outcome will be positive."

Ki Philsu, one of Lee's meditation instructors, said the businesses were set up in New Zealand with the vision to "do good for the community".

"But people we have engaged kept making mistakes, and we are now the victims of that," Ki said.

"All we can say is sorry, but what good will that do because other people's mistakes have damaged us, and also damaged our dreams and hopes."

Ki said about 7000 overseas participants has taken part in the meditation programmes since it started three years ago.

"We want to do good and put New Zealand on the world map, that is our true intention," he said.

Dahn Yoga, which was changed to Body and Brain Yoga, is described as a combination of yoga, tai chi, meditation and self healing and promises members the transformative power of energy.

Its techniques have come under fire and led to two lawsuits in the United States that were later dismissed by the courts.

Lee, referred to as the "grandmaster", first visited New Zealand in 2014, and decided to make an area near Kerikeri the site of his Earth Village.

Through Double Pine Investments, which he is the sole shareholder, Lee bought 156ha of pine forest and bush on Pungaere Rd, west of Kerikeri.

The company has also purchased Haruru Falls Panorama Resort and a 25ha waterfront property on Whangaroa Harbour.

In addition to these, Lee is also linked to four high-end residential properties around Kerikeri.

Lee plans to make the Pungaere site, which is modelled after an existing eco centre in Arizona, USA, his movement's main training hub.

Another of Lee's companies, Meditation Tours, have been bringing trainees to the Bay of Islands since 2016.

A spokesman for Lee had said approval from the Overseas Investment Office, a government agency that regulated the sale of sensitive land to foreign citizens, was not required because he had New Zealand permanent residence.

In Auckland, Body and Brain operates a yoga studio in Paul Matthews Rd in Albany, where training includes brain wave vibration, a form of moving meditation of head shaking.

CNN reported in 2010 of former members alleging severe physical, mental and financial abuse by the group's personnel and staff, which was dismissed by the Arizona District Court.

It came after a 2008 lawsuit, alleging "breaking wage and immigration laws, evading taxes and sexually abusing female disciples" which was also dismissed.

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