Cult collects at least 100 million yen annually

Asahi Shimbun/July 31, 2006

The Setsuri (providence) cult has collected at least 100 million yen ($875,000) a year from its members and uses some of the funds to help the group leader flee from police, sources said.

Former members of the cult said the more money they "donated," the higher the recognition they gained in the group, which is believed to have about 2,000 members in Japan, the sources said.

The cult was established by Jung Myung Seok, 61, a South Korean and former Moonie who fled South Korea in 1999 after being accused of sexually abusing a number of female followers. He is currently on Interpol's wanted list.

According to former cultists in Japan, students, who are believed to account for about half of Setsuri's membership, are required to donate at least 1,000 yen at a regular Sunday service.

After the students find work, they are told to donate 10 percent of their salaries, as well as their bonuses, the sources said.

Senior members at each "church" send all the donations from the first week of each month to a female South Korean cultist who is in charge of Setsuri activities in Japan, they said.

The other donations are used to cover the operating expenses at each church and for other purposes.

"It was a well-known fact that (the money) was funneled to the guru and the female senior official," said a former member in his 30s who was with the cult for at least 10 years. He said he knew of another man who withdrew his savings totaling tens of millions of yen to help cover Jung's expensive accommodations while he was moving from one country to another.

Setsuri members are urged to pay additional funds if their church falls short of money and during "special occasions," such as when the church needs to buy a car.

A former member in her 30s living in the Kansai region said she paid about 1.5 million yen a year.

"A member who could offer a lot of money was regarded as a person of good faith," she said. "So everyone was driven into a situation where they felt they had to pay."

Lawyers trying to help parents get their children out of the cult are considering legal action against Setsuri.

Some former followers said Jung sexually abused more than 100 followers here before 2002, when he stopped visiting Japan.

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