Sect leader held over fatal assault

Nagano, Japan - The head of Kigenkai, a Shinto-linked sect, was arrested Tuesday in connection with a fatal group assault on one of its members in September, police said.

Motohiro Funahashi, 42, is suspected of making false statements regarding the assault when interviewed by Nagano prosecutors last month at the Nagano District Court. Lying to prosecutors is a chargeable offense.

Investigators said various pieces of evidence show Funahashi watched sect members hitting and kicking Motoko Okuno, 63, at the sect's headquarters in Komoro, Nagano Prefecture, on Sept. 24 and 25, but told prosecutors he did not see the assault.

Okuno, who ran a sushi restaurant, was later taken to a hospital and pronounced dead. Her death became suspicious when a hospital in Komoro told police Sept. 25 that a woman taken there had died and that her corpse bore marks indicating she had been beaten.

According to police, a romance between Okuno's 26-year-old daughter, who is also part of the sect, and a male member eventually caused many in the sect to criticize Okuno for failing to discipline her daughter.

Although the immediate charge against Funahashi is breach of procedural law, prosecutors are apparently looking into a possibility that he neglected to halt the assault, or even ordered members to attack Okuno.

In connection with the assault, 21 female members of the sect ranging in age from 15 to 80 have been arrested.

Kigenkai was formed in 1970. The group's main god is Hinomoto Okami, which roughly means Great God of the Sun. As a registered religious group, the sect falls under the jurisdiction of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.