The Unification Church under scrutiny in the aftermath of the killing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has emotionally entrapped many people such as the accused gunman's mother, lawyers committed to helping victims of the religious body said Friday.
A group of three from the National Network of Lawyers against Spiritual Sales told a press conference that the church, formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, receives donations by instilling fear in believers for relatives both living and deceased, including the specter of hell.
Comprising about 300 lawyers and established in 1987, the network has repeatedly petitioned the government and politicians including Abe not to recognize the church. As of 2021, it had taken consultations nationwide on 34,537 cases, with losses totaling about 123.7 billion yen ($923 million).
The speakers condemned the shooting of Abe by Tetsuya Yamagami on July 8 in the western city of Nara as "wrong," and a statement from it called it a "despicable act." One of the lawyers, Hiroshi Yamaguchi, said many victims he has met are good people whose fears are exploited by the church.
"To stop their families being victims of misfortune, to stop their deceased relatives from suffering forever in hell, to help their son get married, they try to save them from misfortune, they give money to the church," he said at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan.
Yamaguchi also said an "overwhelming" number of believers in Japan are women, and religious groups in the country generally have more female followers.
The Unification Church is under increasing scrutiny since the 41-year-old gunman told investigators he was motivated by a grudge against the church and Abe's alleged connections to it.
Police say Yamagami may have identified the former prime minister as a target after watching a September 2021 video address from him to an event held by an organization associated with the church.
In the message, which prompted protest from the lawyers' group, Abe lauds the organization, the Universal Peace Federation, for its "focus and emphasis on family values."
Investigators have gradually revealed a picture of Yamagami who claims his mother's membership to the church blighted the lives of him and his siblings.
His uncle has previously told reporters that Yamagami's mother impoverished the family by donating around 100 million yen to the church and even selling real estate to do so.
Japan, Yamaguchi said, is a major center of fundraising and recruitment for the church because of the teachings propagated by its now-deceased founder, Sun Myung Moon, claiming the country is an "Eve" to Korea's "Adam" that must atone for its sins. Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945.
As the shock from Abe's sudden death has dissipated, a number of lawmakers from the Liberal Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, have been revealed to have connections to the church.
Speaking at the press conference, lawyer Masaki Kito said he hopes financial questions will lead to future developments, saying, "The Unification Church tries as much as possible to avoid using wire transfers, credit and bank books, it's a system for amassing money by cash.
"If transfers to politicians can be proven, then I think the movement of money will become a focal point."