Hundreds of police raided a mostly female sect in central Japan on Monday on suspicion that a member was beaten to death for failing to carry out her religious rites, police and reports said.
Television footage showed dozens of officers marching into the headquarters of Kigankai, a group which has been based for nearly 40 years in the mountain city of Nagano northwest of Tokyo.
The sect was known for selling members "purified" water and stones purported to cure all ills.
"Today's raid was made on suspicion of murder," a police spokesman said, adding that it involved 400 officers.
The victim was identified as Motoko Okuno, 63, who owned a sushi restaurant.
News reports, quoting investigators, said Okuno was beaten to death by some 10 other sect members as punishment for laziness in religious rites.
Police seized documents from the headquarters and questioned senior sect officials, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported online, saying police have obtained arrest warrants for 21 members of the group, all of them women.
The case came to light when the woman's body was taken last month to a hospital, where doctors observed bruises indicating she had been beaten.
Okuno's relatives initially came forward to police and said they had beaten her to death in a domestic dispute, but police grew suspicious that they were making false statements on behalf of the sect, news reports said.
Kigankai was founded in 1970 with the professed goal of promoting Shintoism, Japan's indigenous faith, and was estimated to have some 400 members.
Japan, where few people are fervently religious, has seen repeated crimes and scares involving small religious groups.
In 1995, the Aum Supreme Truth cult unleashed Sarin nerve gas on rush-hour Tokyo trains, killing 12 people and injuring thousands.
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