• Kyodo

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The Nagoya High Court on Monday acquitted a senior official of the Myokakuji Temple group who had been sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison by a lower court for swindling 12 people out of 21.5 million yen in 1994 and 1995.

The lower court had ruled that Keijiro Yano, 42, collaborated with the group’s leader, Gishun Nishikawa, to defraud the 12 by telling them they were possessed by evil spirits and by charging them for exorcisms.

However, the high court’s presiding judge, Hiroshi Kojima, said that while fraud took place, it was not proven Yano had conspired with Nishikawa.

The victims, many of them housewives, visited the group’s Manganji Temple in Nagoya to consult with the priests about their personal problems from December 1994 to April 1995.

Kojima said that while Nishikawa and the other priests were involved in the fraud cases, it was not proven Yano had conspired with Nishikawa as he was not in a position to be involved in the group’s decision making.

“Yano was not deeply involved in the establishment of Manganji Temple, and it is doubtful he was aware that Nishikawa and the other priests were involved in the fraud cases,” Kojima said.

Yano said at a news conference that Nishikawa and the others were involved in deplorable acts and that he is ashamed he did not know about them.

The Nagoya District Court sentenced Nishikawa, 62, to six years in prison in July 1999 for committing fraud.

The group’s leader has appealed to the high court, claiming the exorcisms were “appropriate religious activities.”

In January, the Wakayama District Court ordered the group, which is based in the prefecture, to disband, as sought by the Cultural Affairs Agency. The group has appealed the order to the Osaka High Court.

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