Raids intensify against Japanese cult suspected of fraud

CNN News/December 4, 1999

Tokyo -- Police on Saturday stepped up investigations into a Japanese cult that claimed to cure illnesses by inspecting feet, conducting nationwide raids of the group's facilities, reports said. The raids were the second this week against Ho-no-hana Sampogyo, suspected of defrauding three former believers of 22 million yen ($215,690), Kyodo News reported.

On Wednesday, police searched the cult's headquarters in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, 150 kilometers (95 miles) west of Tokyo. Police refused to give details of Saturday's raids, which come a day after Japan's Parliament gave final approval for laws aimed at reining in the Aum Shinrikyo cult, whose guru is on trial for a lethal nerve gas attack in Tokyo's subways.

Some followers of Ho-no-hana Sampogyo, which means "teaching of the flower-three teachings," paid as much as 100 million yen ($980,000) to the group after being warned that they would die or get cancer unless they had their feet examined.

The group also claimed that the shape of people's feet revealed their personality, with short toes signifying short tempers and fat toes foretelling fortunes.

Complaints against the group began about four years ago, and some 1,000 former group members have filed lawsuits, demanding 5.4 billion yen ($53 million) in damages, Kyodo News service said. The cult's guru, Hogen Fukunaga, reportedly promoted his cult by bragging about meetings with international figures like Pope John Paul II, Mikail Gorbachev and President Bill Clinton.

The investigation comes amid alarm about the unusual practices of several Japanese religious groups.

Last month, police took nine children into protective custody after inspecting an office and rented rooms used by the Life Space cult, which had members hold vigil over mummified corpse in an airport hotel.

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