TOKYO, July 15–(Kyodo) _ A former leader of the Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo foot-reading cult was sentenced to 12 years in prison on Friday for swindling about 150 million yen out of 31 people who sought healing from illnesses and other problems between 1994 and 1997.
Hogen Fukunaga, 60, whose real name is Teruyoshi Fukunaga, conspired with other cult executives to conduct a “foot-reading diagnosis” for the 31 people, lied to them that they have cancers and other serious diseases, and charged religious training fees to cure such diseases, according to the ruling of the Tokyo District Court.
“It’s artful and vicious to swindle such a large sum of money” from people who suffered diseases and other problems, Presiding Judge Tsutomu Aoyagi said, adding that Fukunaga “incited anxiety by telling them shocking things.”
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Fukunaga maintains he is innocent. “I didn’t deceive anyone. I just salvaged the human race by following heaven’s voices,” he said.
The court rejected his argument, saying he “knew better than anybody else that he had no such ability to listen to heaven’s voices.”
The court also described Fukunaga as “a mastermind because he led the organized fraud as the leader of the cult.”
Defense attorneys have argued it is illegal for a court to decide on religious principles because it infringes on freedom of religion.
In response, the judge said the defendant’s acts were “nothing but fraud, and it went far beyond an acceptable level of freedom of religion.”
In the same court on Friday, former senior cult member Akemi Maezawa, 41, was sentenced to four years in prison, also for fraud.
Public prosecutors have demanded 13 years in prison for Fukunaga and six years for Maezawa.
Fifteen former cult members were indicted in the case. Thirteen of them, including Fukunaga and Maezawa, have been found guilty in the district court. So far, two of them have appealed.