Tokyo -- The number-two man of a bizarre Japanese foot-reading cult was sentenced to five years in prison today for playing a key role in the group's scheme to cheat believers out of cash.
The Tokyo District Court said Lee Gang-Chon conspired with other members of the Ho-no-Hana Sanpogyo sect to swindle 31 people out of 149 million yen ($A2.33 million) between 1994 and 1997.
The cult's members "diagnosed" the problems of new adherents, mostly middle-aged women, by reading the soles of their feet, and then urged them to attend costly seminars to cure a variety of supposed ailments, such as cancer.
Presiding judge Osamu Ikeda said that Lee, a 55-year-old ethnic Korean who has adopted the Japanese name of Yasunori Hoshiyama, "actively took part in the acts of organised fraud."
"He had been involved in organisation of the sect from its early period and founded a publishing company to help disseminate propaganda books which lay the ground for the crimes," he said.
Hogen Fukunaga, also 55, who founded the cult two decades ago, is among 15 senior cult members charged with the mass fraud and has been on trial at the court. Nine of the 15 have been given verdicts with all of them convicted.
Lee's sentence was the heaviest so far. Prosecutors had demanded six years in prison for him.
The cult was declared bankrupt by the court last March and was effectively dissolved, as it faced huge claims for damages over the alleged fraud.
In May last year, prosecutors charged the sect founder with fraud for telling five housewives they would get cancer unless they handed over thousands of dollars.
The sect allegedly extracted a total of Y25.02 million ($A392,102) from the housewives, from December 1994 to August 1996.
The five victims had joined the cult separately seeking cures for relatives' illnesses.
"Ho-no-Hana" roughly translates as the flower of law. "Sanpogyo" means the three-law practice.