CHIBA (Kyodo) Police are investigating the Setsuri cult and searched the Yokohama home of the former president of a defunct printing firm Thursday and Friday on suspicion of abetting immigration law violations.
Chiba Prefectural Police searched eight locations, including the cult's facilities in the city of Chiba on suspicion that a senior cultist -- a South Korean woman -- illegally obtained her residency status in Japan for missionary work.
Setsuri (Providence) was established in South Korea and has been active in Japan since around 1987. Its founder, Jung Myung Seok, 61, is alleged to have sexually assaulted several female members.
There are reportedly more than 2,000 followers of the cult in Japan. South Korea, where the cult is known as JMS, has put Jung on an international wanted list on charges of raping female followers.
Police plan to use the information obtained in the searches for a wider probe into the cult's shady operations in Japan, investigation sources said.
The 44-year-old South Korean woman, whose name was not provided, is believed to be a close aide to the founder and is suspected of sending the abused women to his hideouts.
The woman first came to Japan in 1988 and studied at Chiba University for several years beginning in 1990, allegedly recruiting students at the school for the cult, police said.
She has frequently traveled between Japan and South Korea since the 1990s but has not entered Japan since she departed for South Korea last July -- and there is unconfirmed information that she may be hiding in Taiwan, the sources said.
The police probe into the cult has been hampered because its senior members have left Japan. The whereabouts of Jung, who used to frequently visit Japan until a few years ago, is unknown, although an earlier report indicated he was hiding in China.
Police believe one of the facilities searched had been used as a base for Jung when he visited Japan. Investigators suspect female Japanese followers were sent to a room in the facility and sexually abused by the founder.
The 73-year-old former president is alleged to have conspired with a 55-year-old company president in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, in having false documents filed with authorities in March 2000 to make it look like the woman would engage in planning work at his company, when in fact she was serving as a missionary for the cult, investigators said, without identifying the two presidents or their firms.
Lawyers working against the cult filed criminal complaints with authorities last August against the South Korean woman for allegedly violating immigration laws and against the two company executives for allegedly abetting her crime.
The lawyers say the printing company, also in Yokohama, had business dealings with a printing and mail-order company run by the president who lived in Kanazawa.
The Yokohama company was dissolved last March shortly after the lawyers asked the other firm in writing to explain its relationship with the cult, according to the lawyers. "We suspect evidence was destroyed" in the move, one of the lawyers said.
The printing and mail-order company, located in Hakusan, Ishikawa Prefecture, is listed on the second section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It signed an official partnership with the Japanese Olympic Committee in February 2003.