The Honohana Sampogyo religious group paid several million yen to a then member of the Fuji city assembly in Shizuoka Prefecture in 1986, one year before the prefectural government certified it as an authorized religious corporation, cult sources said.
The assembly member, Matsuo Oishi, 63, who later became chairman of the assembly, was asked by the Fuji-based cult to help with procedural matters in registering as an authorized religious body and consulted prefectural government officials on the matter in advance, the sources said.
Oishi admitted to having received cash in December 1986 and April 1987 but told Kyodo News the money was offered as political campaign funds for the 1987 nationwide local elections. He declined to clarify how much he received.
Police suspect the cash was given to Oishi as payment for helping the cult obtain religious corporation status in March 1987. Police are questioning him about the money.
Entities with religious corporation status are entitled to special benefits, such as preferential tax treatment.
Honohana is suspected of defrauding thousands of followers by claiming to be able to predict nonexistent illnesses by reading the soles of their feet.
Under the Religious Juridical Persons Law, groups can apply for religious corporation status by submitting documents to the Cultural Affairs Agency or a prefectural government, explaining details such as the number of followers.
Agency sources said it is extremely unusual for a person other than a religious group member or official proxy to consult a government body on the registration procedure.
The agency will begin investigating the case, the sources said. According to cult sources, Oishi was asked to help Honohana acquire religious certification from the Shizuoka Prefectural Government in the summer of 1986.
He received the request through an acquaintance working at a construction company, they said.
Oishi said he visited the prefectural government office several times with a Honohana official that year.
The former assemblyman said he could not have pressured the Shizuoka Prefectural Government as examinations of religious bodies are based solely on submitted papers. Oishi also said he had no knowledge of the cult's teachings at that time.
During a police raid on Honohana facilities last December on suspicion of fraud, Oishi's house was also searched.
Oishi was first elected to the Fuji Municipal Assembly in 1975. He served six terms as an assemblyman but lost his seat in an election last year.
Shizuoka Prefectural Government officials said they granted Honohana religious corporation status after examining its activities for several months and that the entire procedure was conducted properly.
Honohana officials said they applied for religious corporation status with aid from a construction company and that they do not remember paying money to an assembly member to win certification.