The Ho-no-Hana Sanpogyo religious group began offering new training sessions earlier this year for existing followers to raise funds because an increasing number of lawsuits filed against the group made it difficult to recruit new followers, according to sources close to the group. The group's leader, Hogen Fukunaga, 54, and other senior members of the group are suspected of falsely diagnosing serious ailments and advising those diagnosed to enroll in special training sessions to effect a "cure" that cost millions of yen.
About 1,100 people have filed complaints against the group, seeking the return of a total of 5.4 billion yen they paid for the sessions. The Metropolitan Police Department, which searched the group's facilities last week with Shizuoka prefectural police, said that it suspects the intensified fund-raising showed that the group was prepared to use any means to collect money.
The group offered a new training seminar titled "Chojin Ningen Shacho Juku" (Superhuman President School) for followers, according to the sources and bulletins issued by the group. To enroll in the session, a follower had to meet four conditions, such as rounding up more than seven people to join a five-day training session that cost between 1.25 million yen and 2.25 million yen; participating in a session for middle-aged people that cost more than 7 million yen; or joining a session for young people that cost about 3.8 million yen. To be entitled to enroll in the special seminar, a follower had to pay a total of about 20 million yen.
The group set the number of participants in the six-month Superhuman President School at 1,000. To sign up, the followers had to pay an additional 10 million yen or more, the sources said.
Senior members of the group told the followers that the session aimed "to nurture new leaders to save companies and society in the 21st century." They also said that the followers were assured to have opportunities to use their abilities in fields such as education, politics, medicine, economics and science once they completed the session.
A group bulletin invited followers to participate in the special session, which it described as "the last resort to save the human race." The first entrance ceremony for the seminar was held at a Tokyo hotel on July 11, the sources said. Some sources said that the second entrance ceremony was held in September.
According to the group's internal documents, there were about 300 participants in different training sessions in fiscal 1991, which increased to nearly 6,000 in fiscal 1995.
However, since the summer of 1996, when people from around the country began lodging lawsuits seeking damages against the group, the number of participants fell. In fiscal 1997, the number of people enrolled in courses was about one-tenth of the year before, which made it difficult for the group to maintain operations, according to the sources.