Japan probes Unification Church after backlash over ruling party ties

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TOKYO, Nov 22 (Reuters) – Japan on Tuesday launched an investigation into the Unification Church that could threaten its legal status after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in July exposed its close ties to the ruling party and sparked a public outcry. caused recoil.

For the Unification Church, founded in South Korea in 1954 and dependent on its Japanese followers as a major source of income, the investigation could deal a severe financial blow, affecting tax exemptions and even property.

The stakes are also high for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government, which is teetering on a mere 30% approval rating and is keen to quell the stir over ties to the Unification Church, which last month rejected the resignation of its economic revitalization minister. forced.

“It’s clear to Kishida that this is a huge hindrance to him. Either way, he’s going to be associated with the Unification Church issue,” said Levi McLaughlin, an associate professor at North Carolina State University who studies religion in Japan .

The government has given the Unification Church until Dec. 9 to answer an initial set of questions about its finances and organization, Culture Minister Keiko Nagaoka told a news conference.

After gathering evidence, the ministry will decide whether to seek an injunction to revoke the legal status of the Unification Church, which could take several months and be followed by a lengthy legal battle.

The Unification Church expects to receive the first set of government questions on Wednesday and will cooperate with the investigation, a spokesman for the group in Japan said.

A senior church official at South Korean headquarters added: “Japan is a democratic country that guarantees freedom of religion, so we are closely monitoring the situation.”

Shiori Kanno, an attorney on a Consumer Affairs Agency panel investigating the church’s practice of selling ginseng potions, marble sculptures and other items to raise money from followers, said she expects the case to be completely closed. will go to the Supreme Court if the government stops seeking legal dissolution of the Church.

“The church would lose tax exemptions, such as those on member donations,” she said. “It will become more difficult to borrow money.”

However, she added that losing its status as a religious organization does not prevent the church from continuing its activities or meeting with its members.

BLAME

When Tetsuya Yamagami was arrested in July for the assassination of former Prime Minister Abe, he blamed the religious organization for his family’s impoverishment, saying that Abe, who had appeared at events sponsored by Unification Church-affiliated groups, had had promoted.

The Unification Church, known worldwide for its mass marriages, says it has stopped soliciting donations that are putting its followers in financial trouble and has curtailed aggressive door-to-door selling of church goods after a decade ago convictions related to such practices led her leader in Japan to resign.

However, with the spotlight on the church’s activities, Kishida has come under pressure to address public anger fueled by revelations that more than half of all lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party had ties to the church.

The uproar continues despite a cabinet reshuffle on August 10 that removed some high-ranking figures with ties to the church. In late October, Economic Revitalization Minister Daishiro Yamagiwa resigned after revealing that he too had ties to the church.

Kishida is especially keen to leave the issue behind for a series of local elections in April, when his party will meet voters for the first time on a national scale since winning the upper house election in July, immediately after Abe’s death.

Reporting by Tim Kelly, Kaori Kaneko and Ju-min Park; Edited by Chang-Ran Kim, Kenneth Maxwell and Edmund Klamann

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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