TOKYO (AP) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday ordered an investigation into the Unification Church in an apparent effort to calm public outcry over his ruling party’s cozy ties to the controversial group, which were revealed in the aftermath of the murder of Shinzo Abe.
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… clear link to a religious group he hated. A letter and social media posts attributed to Yamagami say his mother’s large donations to the church have bankrupted his family and ruined his life.
Kishida said a government hotline set up to receive complaints and investigations related to the church has resulted in more than 1,700 cases being handled by police and legal experts.
“Many victims have financial problems and their families have been destroyed, but the government has not been able to provide enough support and I take it seriously,” Kishida said. He also pledged to do more to support the alleged victims, including a possible review of consumer contract laws to prevent future problems.
Founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, the Unification Church was granted religious organization status in Japan in 1968 amid an anti-communist movement supported by Abe’s grandfather and former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi.
Since the 1980s, the Church has faced accusations of devious and recruiting tactics, including brainwashing members into transferring huge chunks of their paychecks to Moon.
The group acknowledged that there were cases of “excessive” donations. It says problems have softened since it passed stricter compliance in 2009, and recently promised further reforms.
A government panel earlier Monday filed a report finding that many financial problems and lawsuits stemmed from the Church’s methods. The report called for an investigation and is considering withdrawing the group’s legal status, though officials are seen as reluctant to go so far.
Kishida told a parliamentary committee meeting on Monday that he has instructed Education and Culture Minister Keiko Nagaoka, who is primarily responsible for overseeing religious groups, to prepare an investigation into the church under the Religious Enterprises Act.
The police investigation into Abe’s murder sparked revelations of widespread ties between the South Korea-based church and members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, including Abe, over their shared interests in conservative causes. The case also shed light on the suffering of the children of supporters, some of whom have come out saying they were forced to join the Church and 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 because of their financial and mental hardships.
Found an LDP survey in September nearly half of lawmakers had ties to the Churchincluding cabinet ministers. Kishida has promised to sever all these ties, but many Japanese want a more detailed explanation of how the church may have influenced party policy.
Kishida has come under fire and his government’s backing assessments have been snowed under over his handling of the controversy over the Church and for… holding a state funeral for Abeone of Japan’s most divisive leaders who is now seen as an important link in the ruling party’s ecclesiastical ties.
Nagaoka, the culture minister, said she will set up a panel of legal and religious experts next week to discuss a rare investigation into a religious group.
Members of the National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sale, who guard the church, last week filed a request with the ministries of Culture and Justice and the highest prosecutor to dissolve the church.
The church has acknowledged that Yamagami’s mother has donated more than 100 million yen ($700,000), including life insurance and real estate, to the group. It said it later returned about half at the request of the suspect’s uncle.
Experts say Japanese followers are being asked to pay for their ancestral sins committed during their colonial rule in the Korean peninsula, and that 70% of the Church’s funding comes from Japan.
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