A letter sent by attorney for Soka Gakkai to Forbes refuting the contents of "Sensei's World," an article published in the September 6, 2004 issue of Forbes magazine.
BARRY B. LANGBERG
DIRECT DIAL 310-556-5885
August 27, 2004
Dennis Kneale, Managing Editor
Rich Karlgaard, Publisher
60 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Re: Sensei's World by Benjamin Fulford and David Whelan
We represent Soka Gakkai, Soka Gakkai International, U.S.A. ("SGI-USA") and Soka University of America ("SUA"). This letter is written in response to Benjamin Fulford's and David Whelan's "Sensei's World." We are disappointed that Forbes has chosen to lend its name to this offensive and deliberately misleading diatribe--particularly in light of our good faith efforts to provide its editorial staff with the information needed to publish an accurate account of SUA, Soka Gakkai and its affiliated organizations. Over six months ago, as you well know, we alerted Forbes to the fact that some of Mr. Fulford's sources were biased and unreliable. At that time, we offered to review the authors' pre-publication materials for accuracy. More recently, we patiently responded to dozens of trivial queries as Forbes' fact checkers went through the motions of the editorial process. The real questions--those that would have given us a chance to respond to the authors' false and injurious accusations against our clients--were never asked. On at least five separate occasions, we pleaded to be apprised of the substance of those accusations. Forbes steadfastly refused, and, in doing so, turned a blind eye to information that it feared would contradict its pre-existing concept for the article. Forbes' editorial staff's decision to deprive our clients of the right to respond to criminal allegations ranging from "blackmail" to "murder" is powerful evidence that the magazine not only disregarded but purposefully avoided the truth.
We find it remarkable that, of all of the thousands of tax-exempt organizations in the world, Forbes' authors turned their sights on entities whose primary goals--as the authors themselves admit--are world peace and international harmony. It is more remarkable still that the authors used every device at their disposal to cheapen these goals and to suggest that they are actually "touted" to obscure some more "sinister" purpose. The authors' use of deliberately inflammatory language is epitomized by a passage that describes SGI president Daisaku Ikeda's dialogues with luminaries such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Henry Kissinger and Arnold Toynbee as having resulted from some 'enticement' on Ikeda's part. The word was obviously employed solely to arouse antipathy in readers. The authors have no evidence to justify the use of "entice" because there is none.
Putting aside the editorial predisposition that tainted the article's preparation and the piece's excessively caustic tone, we are left with the fact that it is replete with error. Of all the misstatements and outright falsehoods that the article contains, the most damaging are those that impute criminal and quasi-criminal conduct to the subject organizations. The authors begin by asserting that "a nasty split from Nichiren Buddhists set off a cycle of alleged violence, blackmail and intimidation." Even without more, these accusations lead reasonable readers to believe that Soka Gakkai precipitated or engaged in specific instances of these criminal acts. Such inferences are absolutely false, and the fact that the article invites them is further proof that the authors' primary objective is to vilify Soka Gakkai.
But the article does not stop there. The very next sentence states: "But yet-darker allegations have been made." Here the text refers the reader to the side-bar entitled "Death Watch" The "Death Watch" side-bar treats the reader to a sensationalized account of the death of city councilwoman Akiyo Asaki. The text not only implies that Asaki was murdered but suggests that Soka Gakkai was somehow involved in her death. The side-bar goes on to insinuate that the Tokyo police, together with Soka Gakkai members in the Public Prosecutor's office, conspired to cover up the "murder." The authors have taken this distorted account almost entirely from comments from the deceased's daughter Naoko. Naoko's statements against Soka Gakkai were unfounded and many were subsequently adjudicated defamatory by the Tokyo courts. Had the authors investigated this story objectively and thoroughly, they would have learned the true facts surrounding the incident. We offer those facts here.
On September 1, 1995, at approximately 10:00 PM, Akiyo Asaki was found lying on the ground near a building close to the Higashi Murayama Railway Station. She had apparently suffered a fall. The first person to encounter her was an employee of a hamburger shop located in the same building. The employee alerted his manager who rushed out to see what had happened. He found Asaki conscious and asked her if she was okay. She responded that, yes, she was "okay." The employee then asked Asaki if she wanted him to call an ambulance, but she said, "No." After noticing that the woman was bleeding, the employee called the police who arrived at the scene at approximately 10:45 PM. They immediately called an ambulance which arrived shortly thereafter and transported Asaki to an emergency hospital. Asaki arrived at the hospital at approximately 11:25 PM. Unfortunately, she died within several hours. Later, Asaki's daughter began to make the outrageous statements that the authors reprint in their article. She claimed that her mother was "murdered," and that Soka Gakkai was somehow involved.
After investigating the case, the Tokyo Public Prosecutor's office announced that there would be no murder prosecution. Its decision was based on a number of concrete findings that were distorted in, or omitted from, the "Deathwatch" side-bar. First, the Prosecutor's office found that there was no convincing proof that the woman had been the victim of foul play. She was conscious when found, and said nothing about being attacked or assaulted. When offered help by the restaurant's employee and manager, she declined and said she was "okay." Contrary to statements that appear in the "Deathwatch" side-bar, the official records reveal that "there were no indications on her body or clothing that she had fought with someone." The records conclude that it is unlikely that "she had been made to fall by someone who had been in an altercation with her just before the fall." Notably, the records reveal that witnesses claimed to have observed Asaki at the scene earlier that evening. They told police that she was "walking around the place...in a depressed manner." While it is true that the Public Prosecutors who were first assigned to the case included Masao Nobuta, who, coincidentally, is a graduate of Soka University in Japan, the fact remains that Nobuta was transferred to another office within several months, and the Asaki case was assigned to another prosecutor before the decision not to prosecute was announced or made.
The side-bar contains other serious errors. Its statement that the policemen who arrived at the scene "kept Asaki from getting medical help," is completely contrary to the true facts. The police summoned an ambulance immediately upon arrival and Asaki was taken to the hospital less than 40 minutes later. The claim that, after Asaki's death, "the police tried to have her body immediately cremated" is also completely false. On September 2nd--the very day that Asaki died--the Public Prosecutor's office requested an autopsy. That autopsy was conducted and its results were taken into account by the Prosecutor's office. In other words, there is no evidence whatsoever to support the author's thinly veiled insinuation that Soka Gakkai conspired to whitewash the incident.
Astonishingly, Forbes saw fit to reprint Naoko Asaki's unfounded charges of foul play by Soka Gakkai despite the fact that this very issue was adjudicated false by the Japanese courts. Soka Gakkai prevailed in each and every defamation case--whether as plaintiff or defendant--in which Asaki's death was at issue--not merely "some cases" as the article avers. All of these facts were readily available to the authors if they had bothered to look for them. And, had they investigated the incident more closely, they would have discovered that Naoko Asaki brought meritless lawsuits against everyone involved in the incident --including the fire department and the emergency personnel who transported her mother to the hospital. Those lawsuits were dismissed. Simply stated, Forbes chose to republish a known libel and did so without even giving the accused an opportunity to defend itself.
Let there be no mistake: Neither Soka Gakkai nor SGI-USA nor Daisaku Ikeda has ever committed or encouraged or endorsed illegal conduct of any kind. Indeed, the type of violence that Forbes imputes to them is anathema to the very values that the organizations and the man have worked to advance.
Forbes' portrayal of the Soka "empire" as a rigid and highly centralized autocracy is also unfounded. After vilifying Daisaku Ikeda as "messianic" and "self-aggrandizing," Forbes rushes to cast him as the "head" of this "empire." From this, the reader is invited to infer that Soka Gakkai, SGI-USA (and its affiliated organizations) and their respective assets are all under Ikeda's direct control. Had the authors conducted any investigation on the point, they would know that SGI comprises many autonomously operated organizations in countries around the world. Each organization complies, first and foremost, with the laws of the country in which it operates. Daisaku Ikeda does not exert direct control over these organizations and most assuredly does not control the manner in which they account to the domestic tax authorities. And the notion that Soka Gakkai or any organization within SGI is "outside the purview of the authorities," as the authors claim, is simply absurd. Each of these organizations is legally and financially accountable to and operates in accord with the domestic laws under which they are incorporated. In the United States, SGI-USA and its affiliated organizations obtain tax-exempt status from the IRS pursuant to U.S. tax laws. In Japan, Soka Gakkai files a tax return statement pursuant to Japanese tax law and pays taxes accordingly. None of these organizations have ever "abused" its non-profit status because all operate in compliance with the applicable laws, notwithstanding the authors' insinuations to the contrary.
Instead of conducting an evenhanded inquiry into the economic structures of the subject organizations, and instead of analyzing the merits of tax-exempt status for all non-profit organizations, Forbes targets Soka Gakkai and SGI-USA, and suggests that they engaged in unlawful--or at least unscrupulous conduct simply by following the existing law. This implication has no basis in fact.
Not content to malign Soka Gakkai and SGI, the authors attack Soka University of America, ("SUA") a fledgling institution that recently received national pre-accreditation and is currently in the process of achieving full accreditation on schedule. The article offensively portrays the university as a monument to Daisaku Ikeda's vanity and casts doubt on its legitimacy as an educational institution. Yet, the authors concede that the university has a "splendid" campus, a first rate library and art gallery, both open to the public, and a renowned secular faculty. The authors comment--without foundation--that a large percentage of the "matriculants" are Soka Gakkai members, but they fail to mention that those students come from widely diverse ethnic and national backgrounds (32 foreign nations are represented), and that SUA has one of the highest first year student retention rates in the country--over 96% in each of its first three years. They are critical of the fact that the university only serves a few hundred students at present, but they fail to pass on the message that SUA is deliberately growing slowly so that it can respond to the needs of the student body as they arise. In fact, SUA announced from the very beginning that it would only admit 100 students per year as it grows to its eventual planned capacity of 1,200.
Taken together, this selective reporting creates a false picture of SUA. But the damaging effect of all of these half truths pales when compared to that of the accusation that SUA did not fulfill the "promise" of non-sectarian status. To our understanding, a sectarian school is one that offers or prescribes religious education and makes decisions on the basis of religious doctrine. SUA is not such an institution. Although it was founded by a religious leader and was funded by a religious organization, it does not offer religious instruction. None of its academic decisions or day to day operating decisions are based on or influenced by religious doctrine. It does not select its students or teachers on the basis of their religious affiliations. It is simply not parochial in any way. To suggest, as the article does that it is controlled from "on high" by clerics or by dogma is not just wrong but unfair. Here, we must emphasize that SUA is an independent institution. The fact that we address its grievances in this letter should not be construed to blur the distinctions among SUA, SGI-USA and Soka Gakkai.
The article's description of faculty dissatisfaction at SUA is equally unfair and inaccurate. As we mentioned to you on several occasions, the full time faculty retention rate at SUA is roughly 81%. Compared to other universities--especially young institutions--this rate is exceedingly high. Moreover, only one lawsuit has been filed and that lawsuit--the Southwell case cited in the article--was resolved by settlement. It is telling that the authors' description of that case quotes the most inflammatory statements in the complaint that Ms. Southwell's lawyer prepared and filed with the court. It does not offer any statements from the responsive pleadings filed by SUA--even though those documents are equally available for examination.
The article contains many other errors. Its statement that Soka Gakkai and SGI impose tithing requirements on their members is false. There is no such requirement. All contributions are voluntary. The statement that "Ikeda threw a scare into the Japanese insurance industry in the 1960s" and when he solicited contributions for a temple construction project because "members cash[ed] in life insurance policies to help," is completely unfounded. As the authors' own source, James White, states in his book, eight million members participated in the fund drive and the average contribution equaled approximately $12.50 at the exchange rate of the day.
The statement that Lisa Jones "ghostwrote an Ikeda book" is also false. Jones was once a member of the editorial staff on SGI-USA publications but did not "ghostwrite" any of President Ikeda's books. Nor was she an "aide" to Ikeda as the article claims. As the authors well know, Ms. Jones operates a website whose sole purpose is to disparage Soka Gakkai and its affiliated organizations. Her obvious and virulent bias against those entities should have caused the authors to question her credibility and investigate her statements further before publishing them.
Another falsehood can be found in the statement that Soka Gakkai "managed to get around" a Japanese tax law that bars non-profit religious organizations from "getting into politics." Mr. Fulford is an experienced business journalist based in Tokyo. He either knew--or knew enough to find out--that Japan's tax law has no such restriction. On a theory modeled after the "free speech" component of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Japanese government permits religious organizations to have a voice in politics and does not restrict them from doing so in any way. Since Japanese tax laws lack such restrictions, the statement that Soka Gakkai "managed to get around" them is totally without foundation. Also false--or at best highly misleading--is the notion that "the organization behind SUA" is being exempted from U.S. taxes. The "organization behind SUA"--that is, the organization responsible for its founding and giving it its largest donations is Soka Gakkai--a Japanese corporation that files returns and pays taxes in Japan pursuant to Japanese tax law. Soka Gakkai is not subject to U.S. taxes. The implication that Soka Gakkai is surreptitiously, illegally or even wrongfully evading such taxes is false.
If we were to point out each of the inaccuracies and misleading statements in the article, we would fill many more pages. But a blow-by-blow dissection of the article is not our purpose here. Rather, we wish to protest the unfair treatment that has been received at Forbes' hands. We suggest to you that the methods used in preparing this article will breed mistrust of Forbes' reporters and will have the effect of discouraging openness to the press in general. It is an unfortunate outcome for what could have been an informative and enlightening piece of journalism.
Sensei's World is an inaccurate and reputationally injurious work. For the reasons set forth above, we believe that it was prepared in an irresponsible fashion. In order to take the first step toward setting the record straight, Forbes should publish this letter in entirety in its next issue. At the very least, we urge Forbes to demonstrate a modicum of journalistic responsibility by publishing the enclosed letter from Soka Gakkai's president, Mr. Einosuke Akiya.
Very truly yours,
Barry B. Langberg
[Note: Rebuttal letter sent by Soka Gakkai's and the SGI-USA's attorney to Forbes Magazine, dated August 27, 2004, in response to "Sensei's World," appearing in the magazine's September 6, 2004 issue. ]