Former cult executive gets 5 years in jail

TOKYO, Dec. 6 (Kyodo) - The Tokyo District Court on Thursday sentenced a former executive of the Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo foot-reading cult to five years in jail on charges of defrauding 31 people of money between 1994 and 1997.

Lee Gang Chon, 55, is the top-ranking member of the cult after group founder and former leader Hogen Fukunaga. His sentence is the heaviest of the nine cult defendants who have been sentenced at local courts.

Prosecutors had demanded six years in prison for Lee.

Presiding Judge Osamu Ikeda said the crime was ''premeditated and vicious in taking advantage of the victims' weak positions'' and the amount of money Lee fraudulently acquired with other cult members was large.

Ikeda said Lee took part in establishing the group as a close aide to Fukunaga, whose real name is Teruyoshi Fukunaga, and played a key role in the fraud scheme in his position as a recruiter to the cult.

Moreover, the defendant had failed to compensate the victims, the judge added.

According to the ruling, Lee conspired with Fukunaga, 56, and other group members to swindle about 149 million yen out of 31 people who had visited cult facilities for a ''foot-reading diagnosis'' of their illnesses under the pretext of training fees.

Fifteen former cult members including Fukunaga were indicted in the fraud case. The cult went bankrupt in March and was effectively dissolved.