Sole man gladhanded rich and famous

Mainichi Daily News/December 3, 1999

Ho no Hana Sanpogyo leader Hogen Fukunaga, who allegedly defrauded thousands of people through his dodgy foot-readings, had set up meetings with international celebrities, including Pope John Paul II, in an attempt to add some luster to the cult's image, the Mainichi has learned.

The whereabouts of Fukunaga, 54, are still unknown following Wednesday's nationwide raids on the foot-reading cult's facilities by police. Fukunaga held talks with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in October 1991, and former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev four years later to discuss global environmental issues, according to magazines published by Ho no Hana.

The guru then made trips to the Vatican and India in the autumn of 1995, where he met the pontiff, the late Mother Theresa, and Sathya Sai Baba, a religionist who once appeared frequently on Japanese television. Fukunaga, who claims to be an oracle, seems to have enjoyed his meeting with the Pope the most, and mentioned the occasion in several magazines and books.

He handed the cult's canon, "Tensei-Seisho (Scripture of heavenly voice)," to the Pope, and was given a ring in return. In giving the ring to Fukunaga, the Pope said "please take care of things after I'm gone," three times, the cult leader claimed in one of his books. Ho no Hana magazines also had regular columns devoted to Fukunaga interviewing domestic celebrities such as television personalities and sports people.

Stories of those high-profile meetings were mentioned in numerous books written by Fukunaga, many of which were distributed free of charge near hospitals, to impress and lure people to undergo "sole-examinations" and attend training sessions, police said.

According to investigators, Ho no Hana had a quota system in place for its high-ranking members, who are called "heaven's employees" and "heaven's servants," to bring in a certain amount of money to the cult.

A notice with the heading "the final oracle" and signed by Fukunaga was distributed to around 240 executive members in June last year. It ordered them to collect up to 4.5 million yen in six days by inviting people to the cult's various training sessions.

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