Japan’s government launches probe into Unification Church amid public backlash over alleged ties

On Tuesday, Japan launched a probe into the Unification Church after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot by a man who allegedly held a grudge against the group. The incident also revealed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the organisation’s supposed close ties with the group which triggered a public backlash. 

According to media reports, the investigation will largely be focused on the church’s finances and its workings which will ultimately decide if the group has violated the law. Reportedly, the organisation heavily relies on its followers in Japan for funding and if proven guilty the church could also lose its “religious corporation” status and the tax exemptions in line with their status. 

The Unification Church, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification was founded in the early 1950s in South Korea whose followers are called Moonies. The organisation will have until December 9 to respond to the questions asked by the investigators about its finances and operations, said Education Minister, Keiko Nagaoka during a press conference. 

Reportedly after the ministry gathers evidence the courts will decide the legal status of the church. Meanwhile, a lawyer on a Consumer Affairs Agency panel, Shiori Kanno who is investigating the church’s practice of selling ginseng drinks, sculptures and other items to raise money said that the organisation could lose its tax exemptions on these donations from its followers. 

She added, “It will find it harder to borrow money.” However, losing its status will not shut down the church or even bar them from meeting members or hinder any of its activities, said the lawyer.  

The outrage was sparked after Abe’s assassination in July during an election campaign when the accused, Tetsuya Yamagami, claimed that the former PM was a supporter of the Unification Church which he blamed for his family’s bankruptcy. Yamagami is currently undergoing a psychological evaluation and had earlier told the police that his mother had donated large sums of money to the church 20 years ago. 

This incident caused Abe’s successor and incumbent Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s approval rating to take a plunge which also recently slipped under 30 per cent, as at least three of his cabinet members have quit in a month, which is a major blow to this government. 

(With inputs from agencies) 

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