Twelve top members of a "sole searching" cult with a penchant for podiatry predictions and a founder boasting a self-professed ability to hear "The Voice of Heaven," were arrested for fraud in Tokyo on Tuesday, police said.
Police decreed as fraudulent claims by Hogen Fukunaga, founder and guru of the controversial cult Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo, that he alone was capable of hearing "The Voice of Heaven" - and should be paid for the privilege of passing the messages on.
Flamboyant Fukunaga, 55, was arrested for fraud, together with a 11 other high-ranking members of the cult, perhaps best known for its promises to cure people's ills by reading the soles of their feet.
Fukunaga admits to having given the "Voice of Heaven" to the five people he is accused of defrauding, but denies the charges facing him.
"I admit I passed on 'The Voice of Heaven' to the five people, but I can't recollect the details of 'The Voice of Heaven,' " Fukunaga said.
Police said that from December 1994 to August 1996, the 12 cult leaders promised five ill people that they could heal their ailments in return for cash payments, which eventually amounted to 25.02 million yen. The cult received the money ostensibly as payment for faith healing.
Cult bigwigs "read" the soles of the feet of the five, telling one that they would "develop cancer if you don't do anything about it," while another was informed that "you'll get better as long as you listen to 'The Voice of Heaven.' "
Police said that the cult lured its five victims into following its religious activities by adopting a name and hiding its status as a religious corporation. In addition, investigators add that Fukunaga has gone on record as saying "it's acceptable to lie when it comes to getting at people."
A book supposedly written by Fukunaga and often used to lure new members was actually penned by a ghostwriter, investigators said.
Ho-no-Hana's sole readings earned the cult bundles. For the decade ending 1998, believers footed over 87 billion yen in cash, most of which was to have their soles bared. Of the 87 billion yen that filled cult coffers, 70 billion yen was garnered through such methods as payments for training, or sale of Ho-no-Hana brand products such as hanging scrolls. The remaining cash was picked up through the cult's publications and restaurants that it operated.
Fukunaga founded Ho-no-Hana in January 1980, preaching that he was the world's final savior after Jesus Christ and the Buddha.
The Shizuoka Prefectural Government recognized the cult as a religious corporation in 1987. Ho-no-Hana has set up 14 bases across the nation and counts over 30,000 participants in its training sessions.