Japanese PM orders probe into controversial religious sect

Amid intense pressure from the opposition and diminishing support for his Cabinet, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday ordered an investigation into the controversial religious sect, Unification Church.

The investigation has been launched based on “the right to ask questions” under the Religious Corporations Act, with the probe marking the first time the government here has exercised the right, reports Xinhua news agency.

The result of the probe could see the sect lose its status as a religious corporation and its tax benefits.

At a parliamentary session on Monday morning, Kishida said he ordered the probe following more than 1,700 consultation requests received since early September through a hotline service.

An advisory panel, meanwhile, has also urged the government to use the Religious Corporations Act to disband the group or launch an investigation before disbanding it.

The Unification Church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, has been under the spotlight for encouraging its followers to make exorbitant donations in the form of “spiritual sales” in return for “karmic benefits”.

Following such donations, some followers have been left in financial ruin.

Tetsuya Yamagami, who fatally shot former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on July 8, had also blamed the organisation for his family’s financial downfall.

“The government has taken seriously the fact that there are a large number of victims as well as poverty and broken families, and they haven’t been provided with adequate relief,” Kishida said during Monday’s session.

Pressure has been mounting on the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), amid slumping public support, to explain its connections to the organisation after having previously promised to sever ties.

An internal probe by the LDP last month revealed about half of the lawmakers, including Speaker of the House of Representatives Hiroyuki Hosoda, had ties with the controversial organisation, often referred to as a cult.

Concern has been rife among opposition parties and the public that the controversial group may have been trying to influence politics here through links with LDP lawmakers.

Keiko Nagaoka, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, said her Ministry will begin the investigation at the earliest date.

In part, owing to the LDP’s links to the dubious group, the approval rating for Kishida’s Cabinet has dropped to 35 per cent, marking the lowest level since it took office in October last year, according to a local media poll.

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