The fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has brought to light relationships between the religious group widely known as the Unification Church and politicians in the Liberal Democratic Party and the opposition camp.
At a press conference on Friday, Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Shinsuke Suematsu admitted that people linked to the group officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification had bought tickets for his political fund-raising parties.
According to Suematsu’s office, the tickets cost a total of ¥40,000 and were purchased in 2020 and 2021. The Suematsu side also sent congratulatory messages for events linked to the group on several occasions.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of,” said Suematsu, who is a member of the LDP faction that was led by Abe. “I didn’t receive any support [from the group] for my election campaign.”
The Unification Church’s links with politicians have come into focus since Tetsuya Yamagami, the suspect in the fatal shooting of Abe, reportedly told police he held a grudge against the group.
Last September, Abe delivered a video message for an event of a group linked to the Unification Church.
In 1968, the Unification Church launched a political organization, the International Federation for Victory over Communism. Since that time, the group is believed to have established ties with politicians, particularly hawks in the LDP, including former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, Abe’s grandfather.
However, since the 1980s, social issues have emerged over the Unification Church’s practice of so-called spiritual sales — which have involved cajoling people into buying goods by claiming they have supernatural benefits — among other activities.
The group’s name change — from the Unification Church to the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification — was approved by the Cultural Affairs Agency in 2015 when the culture minister was Hakubun Shimomura, who is acting chair of the LDP faction that was led by Abe.
On July 13, Shimomura posted a tweet denying any involvement in the decision.
A spotlight has also been shone on the Unification Church’s ties with opposition party politicians.
Nippon Ishin no Kai leader Ichiro Matsui, who is also the mayor of Osaka, said Friday that he had attended an event of a group affiliated with the Unification Church about 20 years ago.
Ishin has said it will investigate the connections between the group and its party members.
Kenta Izumi, president of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, also said at a press conference on the same day that some CDPJ members had sent congratulatory messages for events linked to the group.
Yuichiro Tamaki, the leader of the Democratic Party for the People, has also revealed that he received donations totaling ¥30,000 in 2016 from the former president of the publisher of The Sekai Nippo newspaper, which is said to be linked to the Unification Church.
On Thursday, the CDPJ decided to establish a task force to investigate the problems linked to the group. The Japanese Communist Party also plans to launch a team to look into the relationship between the group and politicians.