Hogen Fukunaga, founder of the bankrupt Ho-ho-hana Sanpogyo [note correct spelling: Ho-no-hana] cult, was ordered Friday to spend 12 years behind bars for swindling 31 people out of nearly 150 million yen under the pretext of religious training fees.
The Tokyo District Court convicted Fukunaga, 60, whose real name is Teruyoshi Fukunaga, of fraud. Prosecutors had demanded that he be jailed for 13 years.
The court also handed a four-year prison term to Akemi Maezawa, 41, a former senior member of the cult for conspiring with Fukunaga in the crime.
Between 1994 and 1997, Fukunaga and senior cult members examined the bottoms of feet of passers-by and lied that they were suffering cancer and recommended that they undergo religious training in the cult to cure their disease, according to the ruling.
They thus defrauded 31 people out of 149.21 million yen under the pretext of "training fees," the court found.
During the hearings, Fukunaga had pleaded not guilty to the fraud charges.
"What we did was not aimed at making money. I was engaged in activities aimed at saving people," he had told the court.
"The court would violate the constitutional provision guaranteeing freedom of religion if it determines the pros and cons of the religious principles," his defense lawyer had told one of the hearings of the cult founder.
Eleven other cult members have accepted guilty rulings handed down on them, and seven of them were jailed, while two others have appealed convictions to the Supreme Court.
In May 2000, Fukunaga and other high-ranking members of the cult were arrested on suspicion of fraud. The cult was declared bankrupt in March 2001.