Cult to return ‘brainwashed’ member's assets

Mainichi Shimbun, Thursday 1 February 2001

A reclusive cult that manipulated a distraught woman must return 240 million yen in assets that she signed over to it, the Tokyo District Court ruled Wednesday.

Presiding Judge Yukihiro Okahisa ruled that Kofukukai-Yamagishikai, a cult that operates farming communes, was acting unfairly in refusing to return assets to a 52-year-old Yokohama woman after she severed her links to the organization. Although the judge denied the cult brainwashed her, he recognized that it psychologically pressured her against the nation's Constitution.

It violates all public order and morals and is invalid, Okahisa said in reference to a contract giving Yamagishi control over the woman's assets that she had signed.

Of 10 similar lawsuits filed against Yamagishi demanding the return of once-surrendered assets, Wednesday's ruling was the first to be issued.

Distraught upon the death of her husband and a daughter's unruly behavior, the emotionally burdened Yokohama woman, whose name is being withheld, sought refuge in a Yamagishi commune in 1989.

Upon entering the commune, she was told that Yamagishi permits no individual assets and believes in collective ownership. She was soon indoctrinated into this belief. She shortly signed over unconditional control to Yamagishi of 310 million yen worth of assets, which included property titles and bank deposits.

Yamagishi was created in 1953 and has led to the formation of over 40 communes, including some overseas. It advocates communal life and forbids personal wealth. Its largest commune, in Mie Prefecture, was set up in 1969, is home to over 1,000 residents and trades in farm produce, earning about 10 billion yen last year.

While on the commune, the woman served as a ham packer. However, she became disillusioned with life within the utopian community and by 1994 had left its ranks. Yamagishi returned to the woman an account in her child's name containing some 40 million yen. The cult refused to release the rest of the 310 million yen worth of assets she had signed over.

Furious, the woman launched a suit against the commune, demanding it provide her with 280 million yen.

Brainwashing caused me to lose sight of my true self, which resulted in my signing over of the assets, the woman said upon filing the case against Yamagishi.

Yamagishi officials, though, denied any wrongdoing. Yamagishi contested the case, saying the woman had always been aware that the commune would never return her assets.