TOKYO – The Unification Church, whose close ties to Japan’s ruling party emerged after the assassination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, acknowledged on Thursday that it had accepted “excessive” donations from the suspect’s mother and would need to seriously consider whether this led to the murder.
Abe was shot dead during an open-air campaign speech in July. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, told police he killed Abe because of his apparent connection to a religious group he hated. A letter and social media posts attributed to him said that his mother’s large donations to the church had bankrupted his family and ruined his life.
Hideyuki Teshigawara, a senior official at the church, which is now called the Federation of Families for Peace and World Unification, told a news conference that he was “deeply saddened” to hear that Yamagami had told police that his anger at the church had led to to attack.
Teshigawara said he is leading reforms at the church to ensure that its recruitment and donations are not forced or harmful to followers or their families.
The church acknowledged that Yamagami’s mother donated more than 100 million yen (US$700,000), including life and property insurance, to the group. He said he later returned about half of it at the request of the suspect’s uncle.
A church lawyer, Nobuya Fukumoto, said he considers the donations from Yamagami’s mother “excessive” and that “we have to take it seriously whether it tormented (the suspect) and led to the outcome.”
The police investigation of Abe’s murder led to revelations of widespread ties between the Liberal Democrat Party, including Abe, and the South Korea-based church over their shared interests in conservative causes.
An LDP survey found that nearly half of its lawmakers had ties to the church. Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has vowed to sever all such ties, but many Japanese want an additional explanation of how the church may have influenced party policies.
Kishida was criticized for handling the church’s controversy as well as pushing forward plans for a state funeral for Abe, and support for his government plummeted. Abe is one of Japan’s most divisive leaders, and plans for the state funeral next Tuesday have become increasingly unpopular as more details emerge about the party’s and Abe’s ties to the Church.
On Wednesday, a man set himself on fire near the prime minister’s office in Tokyo in an apparent protest against the state funeral. The man suffered severe burns but was conscious when he was taken to hospital. Police said it was a suicide attempt and declined to provide further details. Media reports said he had a note expressing his opposition to the state funeral.
The suicide attempt amid heightened security was an embarrassment for police, who have since been accused of providing Abe with insufficient protection.
State funerals for prime ministers are rare in Japan. Kishida said Abe deserves the honor of being Japan’s longest-serving leader after World War II and for his diplomatic and economic achievements.
Critics say the plan for a state funeral was decided undemocratically, has no legal basis and is an inappropriate and expensive use of taxpayers’ money. Political analysts say Kishida decided to hold a state funeral to please Abe’s partisan faction and bolster his own power.
An executive of the main opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party, Katsuya Okada, told a group of reporters on Thursday that there are many problems with holding a state funeral and that party executives will boycott the event.
“The most unfortunate thing is that the state funeral is held despite the majority of people opposing it, which I also find regrettable for former Prime Minister Abe,” Okada said. “Prime Minister Kishida should have made a decision more carefully.”
Source : www.nbcnews.com