Foot cult hid money in multiple accounts: police

Honohana Sanpogyo, a religious cult being investigated over allegations that it swindled followers out of millions of yen in “training fees,” may have been hiding its assets in as many as 100 bank accounts, police sources said Monday.

In searches of cult facilities across the nation in December, the Metropolitan Police Department discovered that the group kept some 500 million yen in cash in safes at several facilities in Tokyo and Shizuoka Prefecture, the sources said.

In addition, the cult and its affiliates maintained about 100 bank accounts, they said.

Many of the cult’s followers have reportedly been told to remit “religious training” fees into bank accounts through a transaction whose records would only be kept for three years.

MPD investigators plan to question the cult’s leaders about its asset management in the belief the group was trying to hide its money through complicated money transactions using those accounts, the sources said.

In 1997, taxation authorities determined that the cult was hiding 4.7 billion yen in unreported income.

Under the types of transactions designated by the cult, the money from followers would be delivered in cash to the cult’s facilities, rather than being transferred to its bank accounts.

The money would initially be pooled at safes in several cult facilities and then be divided into small amounts and deposited at bank accounts of the cult and its affiliates, the sources said. The cult also frequently moved the money, withdrawing cash from one account only to deposit it into another, they added.

76 million yen redress

The Unification Church must pay a 76-year-old woman some 76 million yen in compensation for manipulating her into purchasing expensive goods, the Tokyo District Court ordered Monday.

The woman was demanding 83 million yen from the church and a female follower for persuading her, using emotionally manipulative sales techniques, to buy Buddhist steeples and carrot juice for tens of millions of yen.

The group convinced the plaintiff to purchase the articles “by making her feel insecure and telling her that followers must purchase expensive articles or else their families would suffer misfortunes,” presiding Judge Kenichi Takada said in handing down his ruling.

“This type of selling is clearly illegal in light of social norms,” Takada said. “The sales were pitched as a way to put the group’s doctrine into practice and most of the profits have been reverted to the Unification Church.”

The group’s public relations officer denies it “engages in any kind of profit-making activity and the ruling is extremely unjust.” The officer added the group will appeal the case to a higher court.

According to the ruling, the woman purchased a name seal for 30,000 yen in January 1986 on the recommendation of the female follower, who had gone to her house to read her palm.

Later that year, she bought more articles, including two Buddhist steeples priced at some 43 million yen and 21 million yen, as well as 14 million yen in carrot juice.