A former member of the Honohana Sanpogyo foot-reading cult on Friday admitted during the first session of her trial that she conspired with cult leader Hogen Fukunaga, 55, to defraud two women of nearly 4 million yen. Appearing before the Tokyo District Court, Michiko Ichinose, 37, of Urawa, Saitama Prefecture, told the session that she swindled 3.94 yen million in 1996 and 1997 in conspiracy with Fukunaga and other cult members.
Prosecutors said in their opening statement that the defendant swindled 1.69 yen million from one of the women by telling her that her child would commit suicide unless she attended an August 1996 Honohana Sanpogyo seminar, which cost 2.25 million yen.
She swindled 2.25 million yen from the other woman by telling her that her health would improve after attending a February 1997 seminar, the prosecution said.
In both cases, Fukunaga and other cult members insisted that the victims' feet reflected their ominous futures. The prosecutors said fraud was committed as the cult members knew the foot reading and seminars were bogus.
Ichinose said she deeply regrets causing "huge agony" to the victims and will strive to repay the money she swindled from them. Friday's session was the first of the court hearings that involve 15 cultists accused of obtaining 149 million yen by fraud. The first hearing of cult leader Fukunaga, who was indicted on three separate fraud charges, is slated for Oct. 12.
Upon Fukunaga's orders, the cult examined the soles of its followers' feet and told them that unless they attended the cult's seminars or purchased expensive goods, their own lives and their relatives' would be endangered, prosecutors said.
According to police, the group collected around 95 billion yen, 90 percent of which was collected from the estimated 30,000-strong cult membership. Fukunaga, born Teruyoshi Fukunaga, claimed that he was the world's final savior after Jesus Christ and the Buddha. He reportedly spent 1.83 billion yen that the cult collected on personal matters.
About 1,100 former followers of the cult have filed suits at eight district courts across the country demanding the cult return money it swindled from them.