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A group of 46 people filed a lawsuit Friday against the Honohana Sanpogyo foot-reading cult, demanding the sect pay around 400 million yen in compensation for allegedly swindling money from them.

The plaintiffs claimed that the cult and its founder, Hogen Fukunaga, told them to pay between 1.3 million yen and 33 million yen each for training between 1987 and 1999.

According to the suit, the cult performed foot-reading diagnoses on group members who sought help for health and family problems, warning them that they would experience trouble if they did not take action.

The 46 are from Hokkaido, Tokyo, and the prefectures of Aomori, Iwate, Fukushima, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, according to the group’s lawyers.

The suit brings to about 1,220 the number of people who have lodged damages suits against the cult, based in Fuji, Shizuoka Prefecture, the lawyers said.

Fukunaga, 55, is currently standing trial for fraud. He pleaded not guilty Thursday in his first hearing at the Tokyo District Court.

Fukunaga told the court that he has been engaged in religious activities, which he described as authentic, for 20 years.

Fukunaga, whose real name is Teruyoshi Fukunaga, began preaching in 1980, claiming to be the world’s final savior following Jesus Christ and the Buddha. He based his claim on what he called the “voice of heaven.”

He claims to be able to read people’s past and future by examining the soles of their feet.

The cult, which once claimed to have 30,000 followers, collected 95 billion yen between 1987 and 1999, of which 85 billion yen was taken directly from cult followers as donations or fees for goods and seminars, according to police.

Aum sites searched

The Public Security Investigation Agency on Friday inspected Aum Shinrikyo facilities in Tokyo and Nagoya in line with a law aimed at cracking down on the religious cult.

It was the first search by the agency of the cult’s facilities since Sept. 14 and the 11th since the searches commenced.

It was also the first agency inspection of the Nagoya branch since Aum resumed activities at its rented premises in Nishi Ward, agency sources said.

The cult moved into the Shin Senju facility in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward and the Nagoya branch in August.

Police believe Aum uses the Tokyo facility for training, as followers are frequently seen entering and leaving it.

Several Aum-related facilities are located in the ward, including a building where senior Aum member Fumihiro Joyu, 37, lived until Sunday, when he moved to an apartment in neighboring Kita Ward.

Aum vacated the Nagoya building in December and resumed renting it in August, with a promise to the landlord that it would stop holding religious seminars there. Investigators suspect, however, that the activities have resumed as Aum followers are again frequenting the building.

The agency has been monitoring the branch, suspecting that it may become Aum’s new headquarters for central Japan.

Under the law, enacted in December, occupants of Aum facilities who refuse or hinder police searches can face up to one year in prison.

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