Monk arrested for setting fire to temple for insurance

Mainichi Japan, March 9, 2010

HIGASHI-CHICHIBU, Saitama (Japan) -- A Buddhist monk has been arrested for allegedly setting fire to his temple and property after insuring them for about 300 million yen, police said.

Police accuse Kodo Nishihara, 53, the former chief priest of Seigan-ji temple in the Saitama Prefecture village of Higashi-Chichibu, of pouring kerosene in the temple's main hall and his adjoining home, and setting them alight at around 9:40 p.m. on Nov. 5 last year, burning down four buildings and a car. Nishihara was arrested on suspicion of arson of uninhabited buildings, but has reportedly denied the allegations.

On the day before the fire, Nishihara insured the temple and altar articles for some 300 million yen against fire, and carried his household items and several cultural goods belonging to the village out of the buildings, investigators said. Police suspect that he set fire to his temple in a bid to collect fire insurance benefits.

According to police and the village's board of education, Seigan-ji is believed to have been established in the 1560s. When police searched the home of a relative of Nishihara, they found nine ancient documents, bearing the seals of shogun including Iemitsu Tokugawa. The documents, cultural assets of the village, had been kept at the temple.

Nishihara, who amassed a debt of tens of millions of yen, reportedly stepped down from his position as the chief priest after the blaze. The insurance for the burned temple and property has not yet been paid, police said.