'Donate Buddhist gown' criminal ring busted open

dpa, July 21, 2008

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Taiwan police have cracked a criminal ring that has been swindling money by encouraging people to donate Buddhist gowns to change their fates, a newspaper said yesterday.

The five members of the ring were indicted Saturday on charges of fraud by the Taipei Prosecutors' Office, the China times reported. The five defendants claimed to be able to tell peoples' fortunes and to change their fates.

Since 2005, they have been giving talks on radio and cable TV channels to discuss life's problems and take calls from radio listeners and TV audiences. When someone called in to seek advice about a problem, the ring members would ask them to buy the Life Book that the ring has written to seek answers.

As the Life Book is complicated, those who had bought it would call in again to seek clarification. The ring members would warn the caller that he or she was going to suffer a disaster, illness or divorce, or that his or her children were going to die, unless the caller donated money to the ring to buy Buddhist gowns to be given to temples. This act of charity could help change donors' fates and bring them luck, the ring claimed.

However, the ring embezzled all the donated money and never donated any gowns to temples, the daily said. Many people donated money to buy Buddhist gowns for temples, paying NT$2,200 (US$70) per gown. The ring collected about NT$1 million (US$32,000) each month.

One woman, after being told that her daughter was going to die, was coerced into donating NT$1.3 million (US$43,000) to buy 600 Buddhist gowns. When those who had donated money did not see their problems go away or their luck improve, they alerted police, who launched an investigation and arrested the five alleged swindlers.