Unification Church distances itself from Abe’s assassination | world news

By YURI KAGEYAMA, Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — The Japanese branch of the Unification Church of South Korea on Monday recognized the mother of the suspect in the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as a member, but denied demanding large donations from anyone.

Japanese media cited the mother’s large donations and her subsequent bankruptcy as a possible motive. Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the church, declined to comment on details of the donations, saying a police investigation was ongoing. Speaking generally, he confirmed that some people had made generous donations, but stressed that none were forced.

Reports linking Abe to money troubles say Tetsuya Yamagami, who was arrested at the scene Friday after the shooting, blamed the church for his family’s financial troubles.

“Trying to figure out how such hatred could lead to murder is utterly baffling,” Tanaka told reporters at a Tokyo hotel.

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Yamagami was not a member of the church, and neither was Abe, Tanaka said. Abe simply supported the church’s efforts to promote peace, he added.

Although police did not identify the church, Japanese media reported the Unification Church in Japan, also known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, founded by the late Sun Myung Moon. Some reports, citing unnamed sources, said that Yamagami considered Abe to be related to the church.

Tanaka called the Japanese media reports speculation, stressing that the motive was still unclear.

Abe was shot and killed in Nara, western Japan, while campaigning for Sunday’s national legislative elections. Video and photos taken by the crowd showed Yamagami pulling out a homemade weapon. Two smoke-filled explosions were fired. Abe collapsed and later died in a hospital.

“This is something that should never have happened, and I feel deep outrage,” Tanaka said with a deep bow. “My heart aches that Japan has lost a beloved and respected leader.”

Such bows are part of the Japanese protocol for expressing condolences and do not necessarily signify an admission of guilt.

Tanaka wasted no time in keeping his church away from the assassination, pointing out that there was no record of Yamagami having ever attended any service or event, although he may have come with his mother. when he was a child.

Yamagami’s mother, who joined the church in the late 1990s, has been attending church events about once a month lately. There were many years between which she did not come at all, according to Tanaka’s account.

Although the church has experienced donation scandals, compliance measures were put in place in 2009, and there have been no major issues since then, Tanaka said.

“The amount of donations depends on each individual,” he said. “We are grateful to those who make significant donations, but nothing is required.”

The press conference, to which only selected media have been invited, began with Tanaka’s greeting in a solemn moment of prayer.

The Associated Press was not invited, despite a request. The press conference was broadcast live by Japanese media company Abema, with portions aired on Japanese television broadcasts.

“As a religious leader, I take this very seriously,” Tanaka said of Abe’s killing.

Japanese media reports that Yamagami’s mother declared bankruptcy in 2002, but records dating back 20 years could not be confirmed and Tanaka said details were unknown.

Yamagami is in custody and is not available for comment.

The Unification Church has been embroiled in controversy over the years. Since its founding in 1954, Moon has built a business empire with hundreds of companies in more than half a dozen countries, from hospitals and universities to newspapers and a ballet troupe.

Foremost among the controversial practices are mass marriages, or arranged marriages, often involving followers from different countries, allegedly intended to build a multicultural religious world. New York’s Madison Square Garden was the site of a mass wedding.

In Japan, famous actresses joined the church, while politicians courted friendly ties due to the influence of the church. The Japanese branch was founded in 1959. Church spokesman Ahn Ho-yeul said the church has 300,000 believers in Japan and 150,000 to 200,000 in South Korea.

The beliefs of the church are based on the idea that love in marriage and family is what God wants for peace and harmony in the world.

The majority of Japanese people adhere to a mixture of Shintoism and Buddhism as spirituality and folklore.

Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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