Half of Japan’s ruling lawmakers are linked to the Unification Church

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s ruling party said Thursday that an internal investigation found nearly half of its national lawmakers had ties to the Unification Church, in a growing controversy that emerged after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe was shot dead during a campaign speech in the western city of Nara in July. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, allegedly told police that he killed Abe because of his apparent connection to…

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TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s ruling party said Thursday that an internal investigation found nearly half of its national lawmakers had ties to the Unification Church, in a growing controversy that emerged after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Abe was shot dead during a campaign speech in the western city of Nara in July. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, reportedly told police he killed Abe because of his apparent connection to the Unification Church. A letter and social media posts attributed to him said his mother’s large donations to the church bankrupted his family and ruined his life.

It has led to revelations of widespread ties between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the South Korea-based church, which experts say urges Japanese worshipers to make large donations to right their ancestral sins, including Japan’s past colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

LDP General Secretary Toshimitsu Motegi said in the survey that 179 of the party’s 379 parliamentarians reported links to the church and related organizations. Relationships ranged from attending religious events to accepting donations and receiving electoral support. However, Motegi denied any links between the ruling Conservative party as an organization and the church.

“I take the results of the party’s investigation seriously,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. “Going forward, the party will sever ties with organizations with known social problems and make it party policy, so as not to arouse public suspicion.”

The Unification Church has been accused of improper recruiting and business tactics and of pressuring adherents to make large donations, which the church denies.

Ninety-six of the LDP lawmakers said they attended events organized by the church or its affiliates, while 20 said they gave speeches. Nearly 50 said they gave money at events, while 29 accepted donations. Abe’s younger brother, former defense minister Nobuo Kishi, and former economy and industry minister Koichi Hagiuda were among 17 people who accepted church worshipers as volunteers for the election campaign.

Abe, a conservative nationalist who was one of Japan’s most influential politicians, last year recorded a video message for the Universal Peace Federation, a church-affiliated group, in which he praised the co-founder of the Hak Ja Han Moon Federation, which also leads the Unification Church, for its efforts in promoting traditional family values.

Opposition lawmakers criticized the inquiry for ruling out Abe because he died. The survey also did not include LDP lawmakers in local assemblies, where church worshipers are also active in influencing policy, critics say.

The Unification Church was founded in South Korea in 1954 and came to Japan a decade later. He forged close ties with LDP lawmakers over common interests in conservative causes, including opposition to communism. Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped found the church’s political unit in Tokyo in 1968.

Kishida, despite a cabinet reshuffle in August in which he purged seven ministers with known ties to the Church, including Kishi, found himself with more in his new cabinet.

Support for Kishida’s government has plummeted in recent media surveys, reportedly over party members’ religious ties and plans for a rare state funeral for Abe.

A family funeral for Abe was held in July at a temple in Tokyo, but Kishida wants to hold a state funeral on September 27 at the Budokan martial arts arena with around 6,000 guests. The only other state funeral for a former prime minister in recent decades was that of Shigeru Yoshida in 1967. It was criticized as decided undemocratically and as an inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money.

Critics say Kishida’s decision to hold a state funeral for Abe is an attempt to please lawmakers from Abe’s former faction in the ruling party to maintain party unity and bolster the Kishida’s grip on power. He said Abe deserved a state funeral as the longest-serving post-World War II leader and for his diplomatic and economic achievements.

The Kishida government initially estimated the cost of the funeral at 250 million yen ($1.7 million), but recently said it would take at least 1.4 billion yen ($9.7 million) from more for the security, transportation and reception of foreign dignitaries and other guests. Some say the cost could increase further.

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