Gov't gets 150,000-signature petition to dissolve foot cult

Kyodo News Service/August 30, 2000

The Cultural Affairs Agency on Wednesday received a petition with more than 150,000 signatures calling for court dissolution of the foot-reading cult Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo, agency officials said.

Along with citizens opposed to the cult, Kiyomi Suzuki, mayor of the city of Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture where the cult is based, and Motoi Ogura, chief of Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, handed the petition to the agency's Director General Masamine Sasaki.

Ho-no-Hana's founder Hogen Fukunaga, now on trial for fraud charges, has a residence in Shibuya. The agency has jurisdiction over religious groups.

Koichi Shida, who led the signature campaign in Fuji, told Sasaki, ''We obtained about 147,000 signatures out of the city's electorate of roughly 180,000. That shows how people hope for the dissolution,'' according to the officials.

''We want you to request the dissolution of the group to prevent more fresh victims as its believers are still active,'' Shida was quoted as saying.

''I accept the signatures as the opinion of local residents,'' replied Sasaki. ''I would like to discuss the matter with the Justice Ministry and other related organizations.''

Sasaki also said he wants to witness the first hearing of Fukunaga's trial, slated to be held in mid-October at the Tokyo District Court.

Fukunaga and several other senior members of the cult were arrested and indicted for swindling victims out of money in several cases in May and June. Cult leaders claimed the power to diagnose illness through foot examinations, and demanded large sums from victims in return for ''curing'' their relatives.

According to the Religious Corporation Law, the agency, parties concerned and public prosecutors can ask courts to dissolve cults.

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