Cult earns 2.2 billion from followers

The Asahi Shimbun/June 27, 2003

The group spent millions on bird feed and Tama-chan.

Just like most people with a television, police have been wondering what's behind those white outfits.

Over 2.2 billion yen in donations, for one thing, the Metropolitan Police Department announced Wednesday.

The white-robed cult that calls itself Pana Wave Laboratory collected the money from its followers over the past 10 years, police said.

But police have concluded the group did not coerce members into donating, and that it poses no danger to the public.

The cult set off a media spectacle in April and May when it embarked on a quixotic journey in a caravan of white vehicles through Gifu, Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures.

At least part of their mission was simple: They had to protect their leader, Yuko Chino, 69, from electromagnetic waves that members said were emitted by communists and former KGB agents. According to the cult, the world would end on May 15.

That didn't go down well with local residents who made their concern known to the authorities, comparing the group to the early manifestation of Aum Shinrikyo. In April, while network footage of Pana Wave's road trip beamed into living rooms nationwide, police began to investigate.

Police suggested Wednesday they have unearthed all there is to know. They said the cult accepted between 2.2 billion yen and 2.5 billion yen from about 1,200 followers in the past decade. Since May 2002, it has raised about 380 million yen. The largest single donation was 80 million yen.

About 1.1 billion yen was spent on gas, food and other necessities to keep the caravan going. Police believe the cult has been roaming the Chugoku, Kansai and Chubu regions for the past decade.

Of the remaining donations, about 800 million yen paid for members' white wardrobes and materials to build the group's facilities. The other 300 million yen was spent on feeding birds such as tobi kites and crows, police say.

Finally, in a development that could raise questions about the allegiance of "Tama-chan," the cult gave 17 million yen to a group devoted to the protection of the nation's most celebrated bearded seal.

The money was given to "Tama-chan no koto wo omou kai" (Group to think about Tama-chan), and spent on seal food and inviting animal protection groups to Japan.

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