Japan’s PM Launches Probe into Unification Church

Kishida acts as public support plummets . . .

On Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio launched a probe into the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, commonly known as the Unification Church, to investigate potential legal violations. The church has been under increased scrutiny since the murder of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo in July by an assailant who said he targeted Abe due to his affiliation with the Unification Church, which he claimed bankrupted his family. Since July, numerous sources have revealed the church’s deep and longstanding connections to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its potentially coercive tactics to get followers to make large donations that can lead to financial hardship. An internal LDP investigation revealed that 180 national LDP lawmakers are connected to the church. An Asahi Shimbun study identified 447 politicians, mainly from the LDP, in all 47 prefectures with ties to the church.

Church’s global reach . . .

Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012), a self-proclaimed messiah, founded the Unification Church in Seoul, South Korea, in 1954. Former Japanese Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, Abe’s grandfather, collaborated with Moon to establish the church in Japan in 1959, setting the stage for subsequent ties to the LDP. At that time, the church was staunchly anti-communist. After the fall of the Soviet Union, it shifted to promoting conservative family values, male chauvinism, and anti-sexual minority initiatives. The church reportedly sought support from politicians to gain legitimacy, and, in return, aided political campaigns and vote gathering. As the church and its followers, often called ‘Moonies,’ expanded, it successfully branched into various business and political ventures spanning the world, including in Canada, with total assets now tagged at some C$1.9 billion. Its subsidiary, True Worlds Foods, plays a critical role in distributing sushi-related products in 17 countries, including Canada.

What could come of the probe?

Kishida has tasked the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to begin the probe and suggested the government could request that Japanese courts strip the church of its religious corporation status and tax benefits. A month-long government hotline for victims of the Unification Church set up in early September received more than 1,000 calls in its first five days of operation. The government has extended the hotline indefinitely and said it would support victims. Only two other Japanese religious organizations have lost their status as a religious corporation. The last was Aum Shinrikyo, the group responsible for the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attacks; the first was the Myokakuji temple group in Wakayama Prefecture, which defrauded followers in the 1990s.