Cult leader arrested for swindling 13 million yen through 'prayer fees'

The Mainichi Daily News, Japan/September 13, 2011

The leader of a company known for pitching so-called spiritual-pressure sales has been arrested for swindling customers out of more than 13 million yen, police said.

Toru Saito, 53, who heads the Yamanashi-based group "Shinsekai," stands accused of violating the Act for Punishment of Organized Crimes. Saito has reportedly denied the allegations.

According to Kanagawa Prefectural Police, Saito instructed the operators of "salons" in Tokyo affiliated with the Shinsekai group to defraud five customers of a total of 13.4 million yen between 2004 and 2006 under the pretext of "prayer fees" and other purposes.

Furthermore, Saito, who also serves as a board member of the group, had received some 1.5 billion yen in executive remunerations since 2001, according to Kanagawa Prefectural Police.

Police obtained arrest warrants for four high-ranking members of the group on Aug. 17 and had arrested two of them by Sept. 1. Investigators subsequently found Saito at a short-term rental condominium in Osaka and arrested him on Sept. 12. He had apparently moved in on that day. Some 12 million yen in cash was found in a bag he possessed at the time of his arrest. The condominium was rented under the name of a person with links to Shinsekai.

The remaining member -- a 70-year-old female executive of the company -- is still at large, police said.

Law enforcers have already arrested four others including the operators of affiliated salons and indicted them for fraud.

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