Cult falsified budget claim

Asahi Shimbun/May 20, 2000

Police say the foot cult spent less than 50 billion yen on operating expenses and suspect money was pocketed by its leader.

Police say the Ho no Hana Sanpogyo foot cult's claim that it spent 50 billion yen in operating expenses was false and that the cult actually spent less than half that for such purposes.

Investigators said cult founder Hogen Fukunaga, 55, was responsible for administering the cult's budget totaling 87 billion yen, and they suspect he pocketed the money for personal use.

A joint investigation by the National Police Agency and the Shizuoka prefectural police found that the cult had amassed 87 billion yen from 22,000 followers in 1987-98. The cult registered as a religious organization in 1987. Of the 87 billion yen, 70 billion yen was generated from participation fees and sales of merchandise.

The remaining 17 billion yen was generated through real estate transactions and from its publishing firm and restaurants.

Police learned from seized financial books that the cult used 25 billion yen to buy 1.8 hectares of land in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture-where Ho no Hana Sanpogyo is based-and 4,900 square meters of real estate in the affluent Shoto area of Tokyo's Shibuya Ward.

The cult also financed a publishing firm and restaurants to the tune of 5.6billion yen, police said.

The cult claims it used 40 billion yen of the 50 billion yen in personnel expenses. The remaining 10 billion yen was used to finance an annual festival and lecture circuits, according to the cult's financial books.

During its peak of activity in 1994, Ho no Hana Sanpogyo had more than 500 people on its payroll, including more than 20 board members, police said. Low-end employees were paid as little as 100,000 yen a month, and some had not been paid since December. The cult's regional branch chiefs got a commission of between 45,000 yen and 90,000 yen for each new member recruited.

Several of the branches were given operating expenses, but low-end branch chiefs had to cover their own transportation expenses in recruiting new members. Investigators suspect 10 percent to 20 percent of the 87 billion yen was used for personnel expenses.

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