Swindling spiritualists to be spirited away

Mainichi Shimbun/November 11, 2001

Wakayama -- A Wakayama religious group that swindled billions of yen from its followers in the 1990's will break up in the near future, it was learned Sunday.

A spokesman for the group, Myokakuji, admitted that it has operational difficulties following a 1995 police raid in a fraud case and the subsequent jailing of its leader.

However, he insisted that the decision to disband is a gesture of defiance, not a financial one.

"We are the victim of a government oppression (against religious groups), which is a part of its campaign against AUM (Shinrikyo)," the spokesman said. "We are no swindlers. Our application to disband is comparable to a ceremonial death to prove our innocence."

Myokakuji submitted an application to disband to the Cultural Affairs Agency on Sept. 28, and it was approved in early November. After sorting out necessary paperwork, the break-up will become formal before the end of January 2002.

However, this is not the first instance of the group dissolving itself. The group was originally known as Honkakuji, but changed its name to Myokakuji in the early 1990s after complaints about its operations mounted among its followers. The Cultural Agency asked the Nagoya District Court to break up the group in 1999, but the court has yet to reach a conclusion.

Courts have ruled that the group's priests squeezed money out of its followers by telling them through their fraudulent "spiritual vision" that if they did not pay up, their lives would be ruined by their ancestors' or stillborn babies' curse.

Over 320 people, many of them housewives, sued Myokakuji demanding the return of the money. The group settled the case by paying out 1.1 billion yen to them in December 1998.

Executives of Myokakuji were hit with prison terms in 1999, but are appealing their cases at the Nagoya High Court.

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