While Japan is still struggling with the shocking assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, the man suspected of killing him claimed to the police that the reason he did so was due to Abe's ties to the controversial Unification Church, according to The Japan Times.
Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, who confessed to the assassination, said he shot Abe because of the former primer minister’s links to the Unification church, also known as the Moonies, which he held a grudge against for bankrupting his family.
Yamagami’s mother, a longtime member of the church, reportedly gave it $ 700,000 in donations two decades ago, plunging the suspect's family into poverty, he thought Abe was linked to the group, according to investigative sources.
Abe recently sent a video message to a Unification Church gathering held in September, an event former President Donald Trump also spoke in, The suspect said he watched it on the internet, according to police reports.
The original target, according to Japanese police, was Hak Ja Han Moon, the head of the Unification Church and widow of its founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The self-proclaimed messiah and "true father" of his followers, Moon founded the Unification Church in South Korea in 1954.
The assassination has refocused public attention on the religious group and its decades-old ties to Japan's ruling party. Many Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmakers are said to have connections with the church, according to The Japan Times.
The church immediately distanced itself from the assassination. Tomihiro Tanaka, president of its Japan branch, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, said in a press statement that Yamagami was not a member of the church, but his mother was.
"As for the motive for suspect Yamagami's crime, and the donation issue reported by the media," Tanaka said, "we'd like to refrain from discussing it, as the case is under police investigation."
"As for the motive for suspect Yamagami's crime, and the donation issue reported by the media, we'd like to refrain from discussing it, as the case is under police investigation."Tomihiro Tanaka
Yoshiyuki Inoue, an LDP Upper House lawmaker who was just elected this month, has said he is an informal member of the church but not a religious follower. Inoue was a political affairs secretary to Abe during his first stint as prime minister from 2006 to 2007, according to The Straits Times.
Inoue said he became an informal member on account of the groups' approval of his legislative policies in a statement to Kyodo News. He denied receiving or making donations, paying membership fees, or being asked to do so.
Former Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, an LDP Lower House member, has said she made remarks at a gathering of a group related to the church in 2009, but denied receiving support from the church due to disagreements with it over the rights of sexual minorities.
The Democratic Party for the People says it may need to take action while an internal investigation is taking place. The party chairman, Yuichiro Tamaki, has admitted receiving a donation from a former president of Sekai Nippo, a publication known to have close ties to the Unification Church.
The opposition, Nippon Ishin no Kai, has begun efforts to investigate the scope of the links between the church and politicians, following reports that one of its own lawmakers had links to the church.
It is unclear whether the LDP will follow the opposition parties and launch an internal investigation into links with the religious group, which is often identified as a “cult” in the United States and Europe.
The church, known for conducting mass weddings in sports stadiums, was founded in South Korea in 1954 by Rev Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah who preached new interpretations of the Bible and conservative values, including a strong anti-communist streak.
Despite its Korean origins, the church has found fertile ground in Japan, where it is said to have hundreds of thousands of members.
At the time, leftist pro-communist forces were rife in Japan and the LDP had regarded the Unification Church as a kindred spirit with which it shared political ideologies.
However, since the 1980s, social issues have clouded the image of the church, which has been accused of hard-sell tactics that led to more than 30 civil lawsuits.
The National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, a group of 300 lawyers representing people who claim they have suffered financial damage because of the church, accuse it of brainwashing believers into handing over huge quantities of money.
The network has received 34,000 complaints relating to financial damages of at least 123.7 billion yen ($1.26 billion) in the past 35 years ending 2021.
Today, the group claims to have about 600,000 followers in Japan, which reportedly accounts for at least 70 per cent of its donations.