TOKYO (AP) – Japan’s economy minister said he resigned Monday over ties to the Unification Church after he faced mounting criticism in a mounting controversy involving dozens of ruling party lawmakers.
The resignation of Daishiro Yamagiwa is another blow to the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has been shocked by his party’s close ties to South Korea’s controversial church after the assassination of former leader Shinzo Abe in July.
The support of the Kishida government has been snowed in for its handling of the scandal and for holding a highly unusual state funeral for Abe, one of Japan’s most divisive leaders who is now seen as an important link between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the church.
Since the 1980s, the Church has faced accusations of devious and recruiting tactics, including brainwashing members into transferring huge chunks of their paychecks to it.
Kishida shook his cabinet in August to purge seven ministers who had acknowledged ties to the church. Yamagiwa was retained as economy minister, but opposition lawmakers stepped up demands for his resignation after he repeatedly said he regretted his past attendance at church rallies while traveling abroad and posing for group photos with church leader Han Hak Ja Moon and others. executives could not remember.
“I just submitted my resignation” to Kishida, Yamagiwa told reporters. He said he routinely throws out documents and therefore could not clearly verify previous contacts with the church and only explained after reports of his previous church ties surfaced.
“As a result, I ended up getting the administration in trouble,” Yamagiwa said. “I attended church meetings on a number of occasions and that gave the group credibility, which I deeply regret.” He promised to stay away from the Church in the future.
A ruling party poll in September found that nearly half of lawmakers had ties to the church, including cabinet ministers. Kishida has pledged to cut all these ties and recently said he has ordered the government to investigate the church, with the option of revoking its legal status. Media surveys show that many Japanese want a clearer explanation of how the church may have influenced party policy.
Kishida said he accepted Yamagiwa’s resignation because “as Prime Minister I must prioritize our work to continue economic measures, an additional budget and support for victims of the church’s problems.”
Yamagiwa, who was criticized for clinging to his post and delaying parliamentary sessions over questioning by opposition lawmakers, was seen as forced to quit. He said he has no intention of resigning as a legislator because he has not broken any law.
Kishida said Tuesday he would announce Yamagiwa’s successor.
Former Prime Minister Abe was shot dead during a campaign speech outdoors in July. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told police he killed Abe because of his apparent link to a religious group he hated. A letter and social media posts attributed to Yamagami say his mother’s large donations to the Unification Church bankrupted his family and ruined his life.
Founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, the church gained the status of a religious organization in Japan in 1968 amid an anti-communist movement supported by Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.
The group acknowledged that there have been instances where it received “excessive” donations. It says the problems have eased since it passed stricter compliance measures in 2009 and pledged further reforms.
The police investigation into Abe’s murder led to revelations of widespread ties between the church and members of the ruling party, including Abe, about their shared interests in conservative causes. The case also shed light on the suffering of family members of adherents, some of whom say they were forced to join the Church or were left in poverty or neglected because of their parents’ dedication.
Many critics view the church as a cult because of problems with followers and their families, including financial and mental hardship.
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