Police raided offices and gathering spots Wednesday linked to Honohana Sanpogyo over allegations that the religious sect duped thousands of people into paying large sums to cure serious illnesses it diagnosed through reading the soles of their feet. Some 100 investigators from the Metropolitan Police Department and Shizuoka Prefectural Police searched the group’s head office in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, shortly after 7:30 a.m. Investigators also searched 73 other offices and gathering spots in nine prefectures, including a Tokyo head office in Shibuya Ward and the house of guru Hogen Fukunaga. Police sources said the group’s leaders, including Fukunaga, 54, will face questioning. Fukunaga and other leaders are suspected of falsely diagnosing serious ailments such as cancer after reading the soles of people’s feet. They are also suspected of claiming that multimillion yen payments for special “training” sessions would ward off the illnesses. The sources said the probe’s focus will be on whether investigative authorities can prove the cult was a mere money-grabbing concern under the guise of religion. Authorities must challenge the cult’s claims that massive funds raised from followers came from religious activities with their consent, the sources said. Some 1,100 people nationwide have filed civil suits against the group, seeking a total of 5.4 billion yen in damages, according to the group. More alleged victims will soon file a criminal accusation against Honohana Sanpogyo with the MPD, the sources said. According to police sources, Fukunaga and other senior sect members between November 1994 and June 1995 collected 22 million yen from three women who contacted the group after reading the guru’s books. The senior members warned the women that they would die young, suffer from cancer or face company bankruptcy unless they underwent expensive training sessions at the group’s Fuji headquarters, the sources said. They bilked the three women by selling them hanging scrolls, ornaments and other goods at exorbitant prices, the sources alleged. Using a similar scam, the cult leaders swindled other followers out of some 100 million yen each, the sources claimed. The group has told courts hearing the suits that it collected 61 billion yen from 30,000 followers. The group was founded by Fukunaga around 1980. In 1987, it was recognized as a religious group eligible for preferential tax treatment by the Shizuoka Prefectural Government. It has an estimated 2,000 regular followers. Investigators plan to shed light on the activities of the group, which police believe collected some 100 billion yen from its followers. They plan to confiscate documents showing the cult’s leaders ordered rank-and-file members to collect money and will seek depositions that the sole-reading was a scam to rake in funds, the sources said. Since around 1993, the sect has used part of its funds to start businesses, including those dealing in publishing, travel and grocery retailing, but many have been unsuccessful and some have failed, the sources said. In 1997, Fukunaga and firms related to the cult were fined 4.7 billion yen in penalties and back taxes for failing to properly file taxes. “It is a problem in itself that (Honohana) operated profit-seeking businesses by taking advantage of tax breaks given to religious organizations,” a police official said. Katsumi Fujimori, chief attorney for a nationwide group of lawyers supporting victims of the cult’s alleged fraud, told a news conference in Shizuoka the group hopes the investigation will reveal the cult’s illegal activities and criminal liability. A Tokyo lawyers’ group supporting Honohana victims also released a statement Wednesday that the action by investigative authorities this time will prevent others from falling victim to the sect and forestall any future damage the cult might inflict.

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