Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sect's Businesses Believed to Draw Money, Members Japanese Group Has Restaurants, Computer Stores

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sect's Businesses Believed to Draw Money, Members Japanese Group Has Restaurants, Computer Stores

Article excerpt

ON A BUSTLING, neon-lighted boulevard in Tokyo's Akihabara electronics district, young men make loud sales pitches for computers. But they're not in business for themselves.

The computer store is part of a commercial empire ranging from restaurants to medical facilities to industrial firms owned by Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth, the sect under suspicion in the Tokyo subway attack. It has a string of businesses believed to be funneling money to the sect, recruiting members and buying chemicals that can be used to make nerve gas.

It's not unusual for so-called "new religions" in Japan to run businesses that promote their beliefs. For example, the large Soka Gakkai sect has a university, a newspaper and museums.

Other sects, which number in the tens of thousands, also contribute to political campaigns or even offer up their own candidates for office.

But enterprises that are separate from religious beliefs, like Supreme Truth's, are rare among sects, experts say.

"It's very exceptional for a religious group to have businesses like this," said Kuniyase Take, an assistant director of the Institute of the Study of Japanese Religion.

Supreme Truth is a prime suspect in the March 20 subway attacks that killed 10 people and sickened some 5,500 others.

The apocalyptic group denies involvement, but authorities raiding its property have found equipment and ingredients for making nerve gas like that used in the attack.

Much of the sect's income, believed to be in the tens of millions of dollars a year, comes from members who turn over most of their assets to the sect, according to press reports.

But the sect's businesses are also said to provide a useful means of obtaining the expensive equipment and tons of chemicals discovered in ten days of police raids on the property.

The raids have turned up industrial power generators and two devices, a gas chromatography machine and a photo spectroscope, each of which cost at least $11,000 and can be used to help synthesize the chemicals into deadly compounds.

The raids also yielded safes stuffed with 22 pounds of gold and $8.4 million in cash. The sect's leader, Shoko Asahara, is said to own a Mercedes and a Rolls Royce. …

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