At least 146 Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers have had dealings with the Unification Church or affiliated organizations, a Kyodo News investigation and interviews revealed on Saturday, again underscoring the strong ties between the main party in power in Japan and the religious body.
The politicians’ relationship with the church, officially known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, has become a source of controversy since former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was killed on July 8 for alleged ties to the religious group by a gunman who harbored a grudge. against the church.
The number of those with links to the group, currently equivalent to 38% of the LDP’s 381 members in both houses of parliament, is expected to rise once the results of an internal investigation are published.
Founded in South Korea in 1954 by the late Sun Myung Moon and called a cult by critics, the church is famous for its mass weddings.
The group’s “spirit sales”, in which people are tricked into buying pots and other items at exorbitant prices, have become a social issue in the past.
Of the total, Abe’s intra-party faction made up the largest number of connected members at 39, followed by the factions of party vice chairman Taro Aso and general secretary Toshimitsu Motegi at 21 each, the heavyweight faction Toshihiro Nikai at 20 and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s faction at 19.
Three belong to a faction led by Hiroshi Moriyama, chairman of the LDP’s Election Strategy Committee, and 23 others were unaffiliated with any faction.
A Kyodo News investigation in July and August found that 82 LDP lawmakers had had dealings with the church.
Kyodo reporters interviewed individual lawmakers who did not respond to the survey because some admitted, after taking government office during the cabinet reshuffle last month, to having had contact with the group.
The new findings showed that Nikai, a former LDP general secretary, and Takumi Nemoto, a former health, labor and welfare minister, sent congratulatory messages to meetings of church-linked organizations .
It was also discovered that Kosaburo Nishime, former minister in charge of Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs, Gen Nakatani, adviser to the prime minister, and Eriko Yamatani, former chairwoman of the National Public Security Commission, had previously been interrogated. by the church-affiliated newspaper Sekai Nippo.
Ken Saito, a former agriculture, forestry and fisheries minister, said his secretary attended a meeting of a church-linked group, while Aso and Motegi both denied having had relationships.
About 40 lawmakers did not respond to the survey, accept interviews or decline to comment, citing the LDP’s ongoing investigation.
The survey and interviews considered donations, supporting campaigns, attending events, sending messages, appearing in the media, and paying dues to affiliated entities as constituting church relationships. .
Among other parties, internal investigations revealed that 15 members of the Innovation Party of Japan, 14 members of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and three members of Komeito, the PLD’s junior coalition partner, also had dealings with the government. Unification Church.
The results bring the number of lawmakers involved with the church in one way or another to 184 out of a total of 711.