Controversial Korean spiritual leader chooses Kerikeri as base for global empire

A controversial spiritual leader has chosen Kerikeri as the base for his global movement and is setting up a giant 'Earth Village' in the area.

The village is the brainchild of Seung Heun Lee, known as Ilchi Lee to his followers. He's the spiritual leader behind the world-wide Brain and Body system (originally called Dahn Yoga) and inventor of a ''belly button healing wand''.

Mr Lee gained permanent residency to New Zealand in 2015 under the investor category after meeting its funds requirement. He's purchased 156ha of pine forest and native New Zealand bush on the edge of Puketi Forest near Kerikeri, along with several high-end residential properties.

He plans on using the land to create the global headquarters for Earth Citizens Organisation (ECO) and establish an ECO Learning Centre, with the ultimate goal of recruiting 100 million members and bringing an extra 10,000 visitors to the region each year by 2025.

Mr Lee's company Meditation Tours is currently running a travel business to New Zealand, and is investing heavily in the Far North District.

"We sell about $1.4 million of tours and merchandise annually and hope to expand our activities quickly once our Far North business ramps up and becomes fully operational," its website says, claiming to have brought in 3000 in 2016.

The centre will be modelled on a centre ECO already runs in the US, and plans for the complex were presented to the Far North District Council in Kerikeri last week.

The investment in the Earth Village is expected to top $35 million by its completion, and Mr Lee hopes the Kerikeri site will become the new principal training hub.

"Future leaders of the movement will be taught such sustainable living skills as healthy eating, natural health, organic farming, sustainable housing, renewable energy and recycling," the website says.

"The core program built for these Earth Citizens requires them to spend one to three months at Earth Village directly experiencing and learning about these skills. After their time here, they will return back to their home countries with the tools and knowledge to create similar hubs of their own."

Mr Lee's companies have come under investigation before in New Zealand, which uncovered breaches to employment and immigration rules.

A spokesperson for Mr Lee told NZME the company was now using better software to manage holiday pay and record-keeping.

Brain and Body has been the focus of several critical reports and lawsuits overseas, including allegations of being a cult.

A Brain and Body spokesperson told NZME these were incorrect and based on "frivolous claims".

"It's totally understandable that people should be suspicious of something they don't understand and it's easy to fall into the trap of labelling it as a cult," she said.

"The fact is, it's not a cult and the organisation has very few of the typical characteristics of a cult."

Newshub.