Investigators target Pana Wave over minor vehicle offenses

The Japan Times, May 15, 2003

Police on Wednesday searched facilities and vehicles used by the Pana Wave Laboratory over minor allegations that the sect had falsely registered vehicles.

The police searched 12 facilities in Tokyo, Fukui, Yamanashi, Okayama and Fukuoka prefectures, as well as 17 white vehicles that recently drew great media attention as they moved in a slow-moving caravan through mountainous areas of rural Japan.

The convoy alarmed locals, with memories of the activities of the Aum Shinrikyo cult still fresh in people’s minds.

As the group has allegedly committed only minor offenses, some critics claim that the authorities are being heavy-handed in their treatment of the sect, whose members dress all in white and say they are trying to repel electromagnetic waves.

The National Police Agency and Justice Ministry have publicly compared Pana Wave Laboratory to the early stages of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, whose members launched a deadly sarin attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.

According to the police, Pana Wave used another person’s name to register three vehicles, two of which are still being used by the sect. False registration of a vehicle carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison or a 500,000 yen fine.

The cavalcade of white Pana Wave vehicles attracted attention during the Golden Week holiday period in late April and early May, with members saying they were trying to protect their 69-year-old leader, Yuko Chino, from electromagnetic radiation.

Locals complained when the caravan stopped on a mountain road in Gifu, drawing heavy media attention.

The caravan is now in Fukui, after local authorities agreed that the group could stay for a while if it scaled down its presence.

Until recently, police had shown little interest in Pana Wave, stating that the sect does not pose any security threat and is not listed as a group that threatens public safety and requires surveillance.

But the police said they had decided to investigate the group after some of its members voiced “apocalyptic” views, including a prediction that there would be a major earthquake in May.

They also said that residents in areas where the group is traveling are alarmed.

Earlier, NPA chief Hidehiko Sato told police officers nationwide to keep an eye on the group. Pana Wave is not registered as a religious organization.

The raid incorporated a van believed to be carrying Chino; a facility in Fukui; a dome-shaped structure in Oizumi, Yamanashi; a publishing house in Tokyo’s Shibuya that has been printing newsletters on Chino’s movements; the group’s office in Kurashiki, Okayama; and its headquarters in the city of Fukui.

Some 400 items had been confiscated by late afternoon, according to investigators, who added that in the coming days they plan to question Chino and other senior members of the group about its activities and its funding.

According to the police, the three vehicles were purchased by a Pana Wave member between June 1998 and September of the same year via another man in the construction business in Okayama.

Although the vehicles were used by Pana Wave, the group had the Okayama man register as the vehicles’ owner with a local bureau of the transport ministry, the police said.

The purchases were made with money remitted to the member’s bank account by a Pana Wave-linked association in Tokyo, they said. One of the vehicles, bearing an Okayama plate, was found in a parking lot in Tokyo and is thought to have been falsely registered.

Chino was born in Kyoto and was raised in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture. She is believed to have started a movement known as Chino Shoho after publishing a book, titled “Conformity of Science and Religion,” based on her spiritual experiences, in 1977.

The Okayama man was a member of this movement at the time the vehicles were purchased, but was later ex-communicated.

Shojiro Goto, a lawyer who deals with cases involving false accusations, voiced doubt that the police could confirm that the group is dangerous. The group denies it is a cult.

“If the investigators simply decide to investigate them, they can just use any charge,” Goto said.

Author Manabu Miyazaki, who has written about police abuse of power, said false vehicle registration is a minor offense, adding that the world is “full of offenses like this.”

Given the slow police response to the activities of Aum, Miyazaki said, “The police are just creating an alibi out of fear they may be criticized by the public (again) if the group commits some crime in the future.”

Asahi Shimbun threat
TAKAMATSU, Kagawa Pref. (Kyodo) The Takamatsu branch of the Asahi Shimbun received a threatening letter Wednesday morning that said unless the major daily stops publishing stories on the Pana Wave Laboratory, the sender would bring down a local TV station’s transmission tower, local police said.

The sender said some nuts had already been removed from one transmission tower. Next time, according to the sender, it will be made to collapse.

After being notified by the newspaper, police found 10 bolts missing from one of the radio transmission towers set up near the summit of Mount Aomine in the city, investigators said, adding they are treating the incident as a case of destruction of property.

Transmission towers for the television station are located nearby.

According to investigators, the letter was a sheet of A4-size paper on which the message — “Warning: Suspend all reporting of Pana Wave Laboratory. I’ve removed nuts from the radio tower at the summit of Mount Goshikidai” — was handwritten in ink. The anonymous letter carried a Takamatsu postmark that shows it was mailed Monday.

The tower, some 30 meters tall and located in an area called Goshikidai, is used to relay prefectural radio announcements regarding disasters. The missing bolts are about 6 cm long and 1.6 cm in diameter. They were all removed from the base of the tower where the metallic girders intercross, police said.

The Asahi Shimbun’s Takamatsu branch said that to date it has never filed a story on the Pana Wave Laboratory, which has made headlines in recent weeks as its white-clad members move around in a caravan through central Japan.

According to the prefecture, there was nothing unusual when officials inspected the tower on April 21.

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