Various Soka Groups Appear Linked Sects: Despite claims of independence, records and other sources reveal close ties among the religious and school organizations.

The Los Angeles Times/November 17, 1991
By Amy Pyle

At first glance, the alphabet soup of acronyms and names may appear to be a series of unrelated groups: Soka Gakkai International, Soka University, NSA, NSC, SUA and SGI-USA.

But tax and land transaction documents filed in the United States and Canada, plus interviews and information supplied by the organizations themselves, indicate that all are closely linked.

Representatives of the organizations acknowledge that all were founded by Daisaku Ikeda, the controversial president of Soka Gakkai International, and all share the lofty goals of creating a new, value-based society and striving for world peace through personal prosperity.

They say the similarities largely end there.

Soka University of America, or SUA, representatives repeatedly state that the school and Soka University in Japan are independent from the worldwide religious lay organization: Soka Gakkai International, or SGI. A spokesman for Nichiren Shoshu Sokagakkai of Canada says his group is part of SGI but separate from the wing in the United States, formerly called Nichiren Shoshu of America and now known as SGI-USA.

Yet, George Williams, general director of SGI-USA, is also named as the founding director of NSC and the first chief administrative officer of Soka University of America in documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service and with its Canadian counterpart, Revenue Canada.

Williams and NSA also are listed in Los Angeles County deeds as the purchasers of the original 248 acres of Soka University property.

Both NSC and Soka University report in tax documents that much of their financial support comes from Japan. In interviews, spokesmen for the two organizations volunteered another similarity: Both projects will be financed in part by sales of Ikeda's books, newspapers and magazines, largely to sect members.

Some former members and other critics maintain that all of the organizations are part of a coordinated effort to recruit members and make Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism the religion of the world. Compartmentalizing the various branches of the group is expedient, they say, allowing leaders to dodge controversies.

Soka Gakkai International has been tainted by several scandals in Japan, involving allegations of wiretapping and tax evasion. The NSA has been accused of overly aggressive recruitment techniques.

"In this organization, lying is permitted, even encouraged . . . when you do it to promote the religion," said Joseph Shea, a Hollywood community activist who left NSA in 1986. "You can continue to tell your followers: `We're not connected to this organization that has been involved in the scandals.' "

Soka University of America spokesman Jeff Ourvan has said he would not lie to protect the organization.

But Ourvan last spring implied that he had little insight into Soka Gakkai, even though he had risen through Soka Gakkai ranks. Soka's newspaper, World Tribune, shows that Ourvan rose to a position of authority with the Soka Gakkai through the Young Men's Division, the training ground for many of the organization's leaders.

In April, 1988, in a first-person essay published in the paper, Ourvan wrote of his excitement at attending a dinner with Ikeda during a pilgrimage to Japan. "His concern for all the members amazed me," Ourvan wrote. "He performed a 45-minute magic show for us so he could make us feel comfortable, happy and welcome-like family."

However, during a public meeting on the Soka University campus in the Santa Monica Mountains last spring, Ourvan answered questions as if he had scant knowledge of Ikeda and the Soka Gakkai: "As I understand it, he's the president of the Soka Gakkai International. . . . From what I understand, it's one of the largest religious organizations in Japan."

Further connections among the NSA, Soka University and Soka Gakkai International are apparent in the SGI's 1982 application for religious tax-exempt status submitted to the IRS. The five officers and directors of SGI are described as also being officers and directors of the NSA, which attained tax-exempt status in 1968.

"The individuals . . . all are devout believers in the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin," the application states.

At least three of those five men also have served on the board of Soka University of America at various times since it was granted tax-exempt educational status in 1985. Two of them-Ted Fujioka and James Kato-were on the university's board as recently as 1990, according to federal tax returns. Concurrently, Fujioka served as NSA's vice-general director and SGI's secretary, while Kato was an NSA vice president and an SGI director.

Resumes for the other Soka University officers, included in the tax exemption applications, state that most of them had previously worked for affiliates of Soka Gakkai, including a publishing company, Seikyo Press.

Enclosed in the organization's tax returns for 1990 was a new list of 11 Soka University officers, directors and trustees, which the school's representatives point to as evidence of their independence.

"In its formative stage there were a lot of connections," said Al Albergate, SGI-USA spokesman and former spokesman for the Los Angeles district attorney's office. "But not anymore. We don't decide what happens with Soka University and their direction. They are a school and we are a religious organization."

Although none of the original SGI or NSA board members remain, several of those on the new list are described by former members as longtime NSA or SGI leaders, and one, Hiromasa Ikeda, is Daisaku Ikeda's son.

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