National

Honohana cultists admit to fraud

Four former members of the Honohana Sanpogyo foot-reading cult on Monday pleaded guilty to charges of conspiring with cult founder Hogen Fukunaga to swindle 15 people out of 750 million yen.

In their first trial hearing before the Tokyo District Court, Kazuhisa Kawamura, 45, Hiroko Kaneko, 50, Tsukiko Nozoe, 52, and Harue Matsumoto, 64, also expressed remorse for the pain they caused the victims and offered their apologies.

According to the indictment, Kawamura and Kaneko swindled about 100 million yen each, Nozoe 190 million yen and Matsumoto 360 million yen.

In their opening statement, prosecutors said the four actively played important roles with Fukunaga, 55, in defrauding the victims.

They told the victims, who visited the cult for counseling about physical or family problems, that their problems would worsen unless they attended a cult seminar, which cost 2.25 million yen, or donated up to 14.3 million yen to the cult, prosecutors said.

To convince the victims, Fukunaga and the four insisted that the victims’ feet told of their ominous future, and a “voice from heaven,” which only Fukunaga could hear, urged that the victims attend the seminar or pay the money.

Ten other Honohana members stand accused of fraud at the court in a separate trial. That group includes Fukunaga, who denied the charges against him in his first hearing earlier this month.

Michiko Ichinose, the 37-year-old former head of the cult’s Urawa branch, received a suspended 18-month prison term last week.

The cult reportedly collected about 95 billion yen, mainly from its followers, between 1987 and 1999.