SWINDLED MEMBERS WIN DAMAGES

Honohana out 227 million yen

Kyodo

The Fukuoka District Court ordered Friday the Honohana Sanpogyo cult and its founder, Hogen Fukunaga, to pay 27 people 227.2 million yen in damages for swindling them out of money in the name of ascetic practice fees.

Handing down the ruling, Judge Motoaki Kimura said the conduct of Fukunaga and the cult members is beyond the limit allowed as ascetic practice and is illegal.

The judge said Fukunaga and his cohorts forced the plaintiffs to pay huge amounts of cash after “plunging them into anxiety.”

The plaintiffs had demanded 236.9 million yen.

Some 1,100 people nationwide have filed similar suits against Honohana at seven district courts, seeking a total of 5.2 billion yen in damages. Friday’s ruling was the first in these cases.

According to the court, Fukunaga, 55, and senior cult members defrauded the plaintiffs by falsely diagnosing serious ailments such as cancer based on inspections of the soles of people’s feet and claiming that payments of millions of yen would cure the illnesses.

They defrauded the plaintiffs out of between 1.2 million yen and 35.69 million yen each from 1989 to 1997 by telling them to undergo expensive training sessions and selling them religious goods, such as hanging scrolls, as a way to cure the alleged illnesses, the court said.

The plaintiffs include housewives and workers from seven prefectures who contacted the cult after reading Fukunaga’s books.

Honohana said it will appeal the ruling to a higher court.

The sect was founded by Fukunaga around 1980. In 1987, it was recognized by the Shizuoka Prefectural Government as a religious group eligible for preferential tax treatment.

Honohana has an estimated 2,000 regular followers. It is said to have collected some 100 billion yen from its believers.

Police have questioned a senior member of the group as part of their investigation into the suspected fraud.