Japan launches investigation into Unification Church in wake of Shinzo Abe assassination |  Shinzo Abe

Japan launches investigation into Unification Church in wake of Shinzo Abe assassination | Shinzo Abe

Japan launches investigation into Unification Church in wake of Shinzo Abe assassination |  Shinzo Abe

Japan’s government has launched an investigation into the Unification Church, five months after former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot dead, allegedly by a man with a long-standing grudge against the group.

The investigation, which was announced on Tuesday, will focus on the church’s finances and organisation, and could see it stripped of its legal status, the media said.

Revelations of long-standing ties between members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the church – whose members are colloquially known as Moonies – have been met with public dismay and sent Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s polls plummeting.

The education minister, Keiko Nagaoka, said the church, which is officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, will have until December 9 to respond to investigators’ questions, including those related to its controversial fund-raising activities.

It will then be left to a court to decide whether the church’s legal status and with it the tax exemptions that registered religious organizations enjoy in Japan should be removed. Reports said it would be able to continue as a religious entity in that scenario.

Tetsuya Yamagami, who is accused of killing Abe while giving an election speech in early July, has said he targeted the politician because he believed he was a supporter of the church, which he blamed for bankrupting his family.

Yamagami, who is undergoing a psychological evaluation expected to last until early next year, told police that his mother had donated large sums of the money to the church two decades ago.

Abe, whose grandfather, postwar prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped the Unification Church establish a presence in Japan, sent a congratulatory video message to an event held by an affiliated church in 2021.

The church, a deeply conservative organization founded by Reverend Sun Myung Moon in South Korea in 1954, has been accused of pressuring members in Japan to pay exorbitant sums for “spiritual” items that will supposedly rid them of bad ancestral karma. The church, which is denounced as a cult by its critics, has denied any wrongdoing.

Earlier this month, Nagaoka noted that the church had been ordered to pay at least 1.4 billion yen ($9.8 million) in damages in 22 civil lawsuits. She said the group needed to be investigated as it is “suspected of having great influence and causing extensive damage”.

Few expected that Yamagami’s reported motive for killing Abe would have such dramatic political consequences. But revelations that LDP politicians have appeared at Unification church events and accepted members’ help during election campaigns have rocked Kishida’s party, sending his approval ratings to their lowest level since he took office late last year.

In August, a party investigation revealed that about half of the LDP’s lawmakers had affiliated with the organization.

Kishida’s approval rating has remained at 27.7% for the third consecutive month, according to a Jiji news agency poll conducted in mid-November. The poll showed that 43.5% of respondents did not support the government.

Most voters also opposed Kishida’s decision to hold a state funeral for Abe in September.

His problems have been compounded by the recent departures of three ministers. The justice minister, Yasuhiro Hanashi, quit last week after joking that he only made the news when he signed execution orders, while the economic revitalization minister, Daishiro Yamagiwa, resigned last month over his links to the Unification Church.

At the weekend, Minoru Terada, the interior minister, resigned amid political funding scandals after media reports that Kishida was about to fire him.

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