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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ordered an investigation into the Unification Church this week amid a recent scandal over his ruling party’s links to the controversial religious group, the Guardian reported.
The government’s probe followed a recent investigation which found that half of all lawmakers from the governing Liberal Democratic Party had associated with the organization.
The Unification Church has been in the spotlight in recent months after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, said he killed Abe because he believed the late politician was a supporter of the Church.
Yamagami blamed the church for bankrupting his family, an accusation of the kind that has followed the organization since its formation in 1954 by Reverend Sun Myung Moon in South Korea.
Following Abe’s assassination, the Unification Church has faced intense scrutiny from former members over its recruitment and fundraising methods – the group is alleged to have pressured members to pay excessive sums for “spiritual” items that will ostensibly relieve them of bad ancestral karma.
The Church has denied the accusations.
Kishida was initially reluctant to probe the matter over concerns that he was trampling on religious freedoms. But as his approval ratings fell, the prime minister ordered an investigation that will examine whether the Church has harmed public welfare or committed acts that contravene its status as a religious group.
Depending on the outcome, the organization could lose its tax-exempt status but could still continue to operate as a religious entity.
Only two religious organizations in Japan have ever been under such scrutiny, including the Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult, whose members carried out the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people.