Japanese Prime Minister has ordered a probe into the Unification Church, a religious group that has come under the spotlight after the assassination of former Prine Minister Shinzo Abe. Sixtey seven year old Abe, the longest serving Prime Minister of Japan was shot dead by a sharpsooter on July 8, 2022.
The man accused of killing him said the church had bankrupted his mother and blamed Abe for allegedly encouraging it. Scrutiny of the religious sect in the weeks following then revealed it had ties with many government lawmakers. The scandal forced leader Fumio Kishida to apologise for those links. On Monday he conceded to holding a government investigation into the church – after previously resisting calls for such an investigation.
He said he was “taking seriously” accusations the church had ruined families and exploited its followers for money. The church has previously said its been unfairly vilified over the Abe shooting, which it condemned.
Several lawsuits have been brought against it by previous followers of the church. Kishida acknowledged the church’s “many victims” and said “efforts to help them are still insufficient”. Political commentators locally characterised Kishida’s announcement as a bid to win back public trust. His voter approval rating has plummeted in the past months, as news emerged of his party’s connections to the church. An internal investigation by the Liberal Democratic Party – of which Kishida is head – found 179 of its 379 lawmakers had interacted with the Unification Church.
Following that report, Kishida apologised saying that he had asked his party’s lawmakers to cut all ties with the sect. He also stressed he had no personal connections to the group.
The Unification Church, which was set up in South Korea by Sun Myung Moon in the early 1950s, entered Japan the following decade where it cultivated ties with politicians to grow its followers base and reputation, researchers say.