February 1, 2002

On the Closure of the Seattle Incident Case:
Statement by Soka Gakkai Chief Defense Attorney Morio Miyahara
1. Introduction

After the Tokyo District Court handed down its verdict, which was a total victory for Soka Gakkai, on March 21, 2000, Nichiren Shoshu appealed that decision to the Tokyo High Court. Since then, the Tokyo High Court has been examining the appeal.

Recently, however, upon receiving a strong recommendation from the High Court, we agreed upon a settlement in which Nichiren Shoshu completely withdrew its claims, with Soka Gakkai assenting to the withdrawal. Upon this settlement, the Seattle incident case has been brought to a complete close.

In the following, as the chief defense attorney for Soka Gakkai, I would like to report on the background of this recent settlement and its meaning.

2. Background on Soka Gakkai's Reports

As you know, this case started with Mrs. Hiroe Clow's account of Nikken Abe's altercation with prostitutes, which she revealed in the June 17, 1992, issue of the Soka Shimpo, Soka Gakkai's bimonthly youth newspaper. (Mrs. Clow since passed away in March 1996.) According to the article, when Mr. Abe went to Seattle in March 1963 for the first overseas Gohonzon conferral ceremonies in the United States, he left the Olympic Hotel, where he was staying, late at night and then had an altercation with prostitutes, causing the police to intervene. Regarding this report, Nichiren Shoshu and Taiseki-ji filed a libel suit against Soka Gakkai and others, seeking 2 billion yen (US $18.0 million) in damages. (Nichiren Shoshu and Taiseki-ji also filed a further libel suit against Soka Gakkai and sought 200 million yen (US $1.8 million) in damages, regarding Soka Gakkai's report on the existence of United States federal government records pertaining to the Seattle incident. This suit was later consolidated with the initial lawsuit and was included in the recent settlement. That is, Nichiren Shoshu also withdrew that libel suit.)

The reason why Soka Gakkai reported this incident was to question Mr. Nikken Abe's qualification for the office of high priest. Toward the end of 1990, Nichiren Shoshu unilaterally dismissed SGI President Ikeda from the position of chief lay representative. Since that time, Soka Gakkai attempted to offer arguments regarding the significance of the Grand Main Temple (Sho-Hondo), the ideal role of the clergy and concerning various doctrinal interpretations; Nichiren Shoshu, however, hard pressed to respond, resorted to its clerical authority to silence any criticism, asserting the priesthood's essential superiority over the laity.

In this situation, as much as Mr. Abe asserted his authority as high priest, doubts were raised as to his qualifications and fitness for the position. Many priests and lay believers began to point to Mr. Abe's behavior, such as indulging himself at an exclusive hot spring resort and merrymaking with Geishas, as indicating his lack of fitness for official religious duties. Among the revelations of Mr. Abe's questionable conduct was Mrs. Clow's account of the Seattle incident.

The priesthood insisted that the high priest alone possesses the authority to transcribe the Gohonzon, to which lay believers pray daily, and that he thus commands absolute obedience from the laity. As an important element in considering Mr. Abe's qualification as high priest, Soka Gakkai then decided to report on Mrs. Clow's eyewitness account.

Mr. Abe himself commented that if the incident were proven true, he would resign from office, thus acknowledging the Seattle incident's key relevance to his qualification as high priest.

In response to Soka Gakkai's report, Mr. Abe first commented that he had never set foot outside his hotel on the night of the alleged incident, denying it entirely. He also publicly denounced Mrs. Clow as a liar. Based on Mr. Abe's complete denial of the incident, Nichiren Shoshu and Taiseki-ji, as the plaintiff, but not Mr. Abe, filed a libel suit against Soka Gakkai and others.

3. The Progress of the Case

(1) The Tokyo District Court examined the issue of whether the Soka Shimpo's report on the incident was true or not. It tried to determine just what happened in Seattle on the night of the alleged incident. Was Mrs. Clow's testimony credible? Could Mr. Abe's complete denial of the incident be substantiated? The court heard these questions.

(2) Libel applies to statements about a person that tend to damage his or her public reputation. The law, however, stipulates that if the statements made about the person are in the public interest and intended to benefit the public, and if their contents are deemed to be true, this does not constitute libel. With regard to the Seattle incident, the report's relevance to the public interest and its intended purpose to benefit the public was clear. Therefore the case hinged mainly on the issue of the truthfulness of the report.

(3) In this trial, Mrs. Clow testified as a witness on three occasions. She clearly told the court that Mr. Abe, after conducting the Gohonzon conferral ceremony in Seattle, left the Olympic Hotel where he was staying late at night and had an altercation with prostitutes, which caused the police to intervene. She told the court how she took the trouble to extricate Mr. Abe from his predicament.

Mr. Sprinkle, a former Seattle police officer who was at the scene of the incident, also testified, substantiating Mrs. Clow's account. Furthermore, Mr. Mayhle, another police officer who was at the scene, submitted an affidavit consistent with those testimonies.

Mr. Abe, three years after his initial denial of the entire incident and immediately before Mrs. Clow's court appearance, suddenly changed his account and admitted that he had left the hotel to have some drinks. Mr. Abe also denied that he had been staying at the Olympic Hotel, which he had acknowledged all along. In addition to his sudden reversal of his previous statements, in Mr. Abe's own testimony during his examination he not only changed his testimony many times for reasons that were unclear, but also made unnatural excuses at many points. For example, although he submitted as evidence a photograph of the bar where he claimed to have had some drinks, in his court testimony he was ambiguous even about whether he actually entered the bar. He also made statements contradictory to the known conditions of the bar at the time. He then testified that because he had written in his diary "To bed at 1 PM [sic]," the altercation with prostitutes, which allegedly took place around 2 AM, could not have happened. This entry, however, was determined through the application of multiple scientific tests conducted by professional document examiners to have been added at a later date. In this way, Mr. Abe's account of the incident completely collapsed in court.

(4) The Tokyo District Court, upon directly seeing the untrustworthy manner of Mr. Abe's testimony and examining all the evidence submitted, found that the testimony given by Mrs. Clow and Mr. Sprinkle as well as Mr. Mayhle's statements, were "highly credible" and that Mr. Abe's testimony "cannot be trusted." The Tokyo District Court thus found that the reports in Soka Shimpo and other publications were true and handed down a verdict in total favor of Soka Gakkai.

(5) In response, Nichiren Shoshu appealed the verdict, and the case was heard again at the Tokyo High Court.

4. Background of the Settlement

At the Tokyo High Court, Chief Judge Kazuo Masui had strongly recommended since July 2001 that Nichiren Shoshu withdraw its claim. Since the law requires the defendant's agreement for the plaintiff's withdrawal of its claim, the chief judge also recommended that Soka Gakkai agree to the withdrawal.

The High Court recommended the withdrawal of the case since it deemed that the suit filed by Nichiren Shoshu was not appropriate to the purpose of a religious organization, as Article 1 of the court settlement indicates. The High Court also acknowledged the difficulties of determining the facts in this case, compared to customary lawsuits, because it concerned an incident that took place 40 years ago in the United States, and cited the incongruity of further efforts to ascertain the facts with the purpose of the religious organizations involved. For those reasons, the High Court recommended that Nichiren Shoshu withdraw its claims.

Soka Gakkai, upon receiving this recommendation, considered it a procedural matter to conclude the case, since the initial verdict, which was based upon careful examination of the facts and evidence, cannot be in any way reversed. For this reason, Soka Gakkai responded that if Nichiren Shoshu would withdraw its claim, it would respect the strong recommendation in favor of settlement made by the High Court.

As a result, on January 31, the case was settled at the Tokyo High Court with Nichiren Shoshu's withdrawal.

[Note: As it appeared in the February 1, 2002 issue of the Seikyo Shimbun]