Japanese Economic Security Minister Daishiro Yamagiva is resigning over ties to the Unification Church, the Nikkei reported , citing sources.
In early October, Yamagiva admitted at a press conference in Tokyo that he had met with leaders of the religious organization. He assured that he simply “exchanged a few words with them”, said that he had been to other events of the Unification Church, but he did not remember anything about it. However, the organization's website published photographs showing Yamagiva together with the leaders of the Unification Church at different times.
Attention to the "Unification Church" was riveted after the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 8 this year. The suspect in the murder, Tetsuya Yamagami, said that he committed the crime because of the connection of the ex-premier of the country with this organization. He accused Abe of bankrupting his family. According to media reports, 20 years ago, Yamagami's mother donated large sums of money to the organization.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delayed the church's inspection for some time, as it turned out that many government officials, including members of Japan's ruling party, were associated with it. However, last Monday he acknowledged the need for a government investigation into the church. He said he was "serious" about accusations by the church that it had destroyed families and exploited its followers for money. Japanese political observers described Kishida's announcement as an attempt to regain public confidence as his voter ratings plummeted in recent months amid news of his party's ties to the church.
An internal investigation by the Liberal Democratic Party, led by Kishida, found that 179 out of 379 of its members interacted with the Unification Church. After that, the prime minister issued a public apology for his party's ties to the religious organization, and said that he asked the party's representatives not to interact with the Unification Church anymore.
The Unification Church, founded in South Korea by Sun Myung Moon in the early 1950s, came to Japan in the 1960s, where it forged connections with politicians to increase its following base and reputation.
Observers say that the group sends its followers to work as volunteers or other employees in the offices of politicians, and also that it has created a network with the conservative party. At the same time, the ruling party of the country denies any organizational connection with the church.
The organization is accused of forcing its members to donate large sums of money. Members of the Unification Church paid exorbitant amounts for "spiritual" items that supposedly would save them from bad family karma.
The investigation is expected to examine whether the church has harmed the public welfare and whether it has committed acts that conflict with its status as a religious group. Under the Religious Corporations Act, it could be served with a dissolution order that would deprive it of its status as a tax-exempt religious organization. However, it will be able to exist as a religious organization.
Only two religious organizations have been so judged in Japan, among them Aum Shinrikyo, whose members carried out the 1995 Tokyo subway bombing that killed 13 people.