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Monday, 25 December, 2000, 16:30 GMT
Foot-reader fined for fraud
Japanese cult graphic
The cult promised to diagnose disease by reading feet
A foot-reading Japanese cult has been ordered to pay 157million yen ($1.39million) to 31 of its followers who sued for fraud.

Sect leader Hogen Fukunaga claimed to be able to diagnose diseases by reading the soles of his followers' feet - which he would do for a fee of about $900.

Adherents who wished to avoid an unpleasant fate could do so, the Ho-no-Hana Sanpogyo cult taught, by attending "cure" sessions that cost about $18,000.

A Tokyo District Court ruled on Monday that the sect's practices "went well beyond what can be socially justified by demanding that its followers part with large sums of money".

Criminal charges

Mr Fukunaga, 55, faces separate criminal charges for fraud. He pleaded not guilty in October.

After a series of police raids and media reports about his opulent lifestyle, he resigned as leader of the cult in January. Many believe he still holds de facto control.


Ho-no-Hana's activities went well beyond what can be socially justified

Tokyo District Court ruling
The cult is believed to have netted around $750m over the years.

Correspondents say one reason that such schemes succeed is that the Japanese police have traditionally been reluctant to move against religious groups.

But police have been more willing to take on religious sects since the end of 1999, when a senior member of Aum Shinrikyo - the group responsible for the nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway - was released from prison.

Reincarnation

Mr Fukunaga, a former electrician who claims to be the reincarnation of both Jesus Christ and Buddha, founded the cult in 1987.

At the peak of its popularity, it claimed 30,000 adherents, many of them middle-aged women.

More than 1,200 people have filed suits against Ho-no-Hana, whose name means Teaching of the Flower.

Three other courts have already found against the cult. Monday's fine was the second largest to date.

In April, a court in southwestern Japan ordered the cult to pay $2m to 27 former adherents.

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See also:

06 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan cult member gets life
31 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Stricter surveillance for Japanese cult
29 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Doomsday cult leader released
01 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Japan sect apologises for gas attack
18 May 99 | Asia-Pacific
Police swoop on Japanese cult
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