The Unification Church, whose close ties to Japan’s ruling party emerged after the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, admitted it had received an “excessive” donation from the suspect’s mother and must seriously consider whether it led to the killing. .

Abe died in July after being shot during an external campaign speech. The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, said he shot Abe because of the former prime minister’s links to the Unification Church, also known as Munis, which he blamed for bankrupting his family. Yamagami’s mother, a long-time member of the church, reportedly gave away ¥100m (£618,000) in donations two decades ago, plunging their family into poverty.

Hideyuki Teshigawara, a senior official at the church, now called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, said at a news conference Thursday that he was “deeply saddened” to hear that Yamagami told police that his anger at the church was directed at the leadership. attack

Teshigawara said he is leading reforms of the church to ensure that its appointments and donations are not coercive or harmful to followers or their families.

The church acknowledged that Yamagami’s mother donated more than 100 million yen, including life insurance and real estate, to the group. It said it later returned about half at the request of the suspect’s uncle.

Nobuya Fukumoto, a church lawyer, said he considered Yamagami’s mother’s donation “excessive” and that “if it causes pain, we have to take it seriously. [the suspect] and leads to results”.

The police investigation into Abe’s assassination revealed extensive ties between Abe, including the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and the South Korea-based church, with their shared interests in conservative causes.

A party survey found that nearly half of its lawmakers have ties to the church. The prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has vowed to sever all such ties, but many Japanese want more explanation of how the church can influence party policies.

Kishida has come under fire for his handling of the church controversy, as well as for pushing through plans for a state funeral for Abe and for nosediving approval ratings for his government. Abe is one of Japan’s most divisive leaders, and plans for a state funeral next Tuesday have become increasingly unpopular as more details emerge about the party and Abe’s connections to the church.

On Wednesday, a man set himself on fire near the prime minister’s office in apparent protest against state funerals. The man suffered severe burns but was conscious when taken to hospital. Police said it was an attempted suicide and would not release details. Media reports said he had a note expressing his opposition to a state funeral.

The suicide attempt amid heightened security was embarrassing for police, who have already been accused of providing inadequate security for Abe.

State funerals for prime ministers are rare in Japan. Kishida said Abe deserved the honor as Japan’s longest-serving leader since World War II and for his diplomatic and economic achievements.

Critics say the state funeral plan was decided undemocratically, has no legal basis and is an inappropriate and costly use of taxpayer money. Political analysts say Kishida decided to hold a state funeral to appease Aber’s faction and solidify his own power.

With the Associated Press

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