• Kyodo

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The Chiba District Court on Tuesday sentenced a cult leader to 15 years in prison for murdering a 66-year-old man whose mummified body was found at a hotel in Chiba Prefecture in 1999.

Koji Takahashi, 63, leader of the Life Space “self-enlightenment” group, was found guilty of killing Shinichi Kobayashi, a former company employee in Kawanishi, Hyogo Prefecture.

Takahashi’s lawyers immediately appealed the ruling to a higher court. Prosecutors had sought a 15-year term for Takahashi.

According to the ruling, Takahashi ordered Kobayashi’s son Kenji, 33, and other followers to take Kobayashi from a hospital in Hyogo Prefecture where he had been treated for a stroke, and move him to a hotel in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, on July 2, 1999.

At the hotel, the group performed hand-tapping rituals on Kobayashi as part of a so-called religious cure. The court ruled that Takahashi failed to allow Kobayashi to receive medical treatment. As a result, Kobayashi suffocated and died three days later, the court said.

Kenji Kobayashi was found guilty of not allowing his father to receive proper medical treatment, resulting in death by suffocation. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison, suspended for three years.

Kobayashi’s mummified body was found in a hotel room on Nov. 11, 1999. Takahashi was arrested along with seven followers, including Kobayashi’s son, on Feb. 22, 2000.

The prosecutors accused Takahashi of killing Kobayashi to secure his position as leader of Life Space, keep his followers under control, and obtain money.

Takahashi pleaded not guilty to the charges, saying that he did not make the order to move the victim from the hospital to the hotel.

Takahashi also argued that he was not responsible for Kobayashi’s death because the victim was in a terminal stage of alcoholism and was incurable.

However, presiding Judge Yokichi Koike concluded that Takahashi was aware of the risk that Kobayashi could die if he was removed from the hospital and denied medical treatment, noting that the accused had a clear intent to kill the victim.

The judge supported the prosecutors’ view that Takahashi killed Kobayashi to retain his position as the cult’s leader, adding that he did not see any room for leniency.

A former tax accountant, Takahashi reportedly established Life Space in Osaka in 1983. At its peak, the group attracted nearly 10,000 participants to its “self-enlightenment seminars.”

In the early 1990s, the group began to take on a more religious character. In 1995, a university student died after taking part in a training session where participants were put in a hot tub for extended periods of time.

Even after the arrest and indictment of Takahashi and the others, about 100 of his supporters continue to publicize his beliefs on Web sites and in books. Many of them still reportedly regard him as a guru.

While Kenji Kobayashi has vowed to quit Life Space after receiving the suspended sentence, the victim’s eldest daughter continues to work with the group, according to people close to the cult.

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