Wed, Sep 29, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Controversial guru opens `photo shop' in Kaohsiung

By Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH AGENCIES

Supporters of controversial cult leader Sung Chi-li were on hand yesterday for the ceremony of a `divine photo shop' in Kaohsiung. Sung gained notoriety several years ago by claiming to have supernatural powers and offering photos that should halos of light around his head as proof.

PHOTO: CHANG CHUNG-YI, TAIPEI TIMES

Cult leader Sung Chi-li (宋七力) opened a "divine photo shop" in Kaohsiung City yesterday, although he didn't show up for the opening ceremony.

He did hold a press conference later, however, at his Kaohsiung residence.

"It wasn't my idea to open the shop. It was one of my followers in Australia who insisted me on doing so," Sung said.

"I am not going to do anything special there. It will only be a place, like a museum, to display my divine photos. It will also be a location for my followers to get together for all kinds of events," he said.

Sung said the 150-ping shop on Er-ling Road in the Hsiaokang district cost his Australian follower approximately NT$100 million.

Yang Chen-chih (楊振志), one of Sung's followers, distributed brochures after the short opening ceremony.

"It is a place for cultural exhibitions. Admission is free," Yang said.

However, only Sung's "divine photos" are on display. The photos usually show Sung with colorful rays of light in the sky and a ring of light around his head.

In 1996 Sung was sued by some followers -- and then indicted on charges of deception -- for obtaining NT$3 billion in donations by claiming to have "supernatural powers" which he could use to help people.

He was convicted of fraud and sentenced to seven years on Oct. 30, 1997, but the High Court overturned the verdict last year, ruling that his activities were simply religious activities, which are protected by the Constitution.

During his trial it was established that the "divine photos" of Sung were enhanced with basic computer graphics. The plaintiffs said Sung used the photos to win people's trust.

During the investigation of the case, Sung insisted that he had supernatural powers and that he could get people to do whatever he commanded.

The police invited him to display his powers in public, but he failed to persuade a police officer who was standing to sit down, despite repeated attempts.

Among Sung's more prominent followers are Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and his wife Yu Fang-chih (游芳枝).

During a radio interview on Sept. 26, Sung praised Hsieh for his decent character and good heart.

Sung said that Hsieh was the best choice for the Democratic Progressive Party's candidate for the 2008 presidential election.

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